February 11, 2022 | OPINION | By Zoraiz Zafar | Illustration by Kira Schulist
When Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were being projected as the victors of the 2021 Georgia Senate special elections, a certain Democratic senator was about to see a massive uptick in popularity. Joe Manchin, the senior senator from the dark-red state of West Virginia, was about to become not a thorn, but a spike strip in the side of the incoming Biden administration.
Despite being the first candidate in more than two decades to unseat an incumbent president, Joe Biden entered his presidency with very slim majorities in both chambers of the United States Congress. The Senate, as of today, remains evenly split, with each party boasting the support of 50 U.S. Senators each.
Even when the ‘nuclear option’ is invoked in times of hyper-partisanship, the passage of a piece of legislation or the confirmation of a nominee requires at least 50 votes. And when one of those 50 Democratic senators is Manchin, the party’s broad-ranging agenda is brought to a screeching halt.
In the first year of Biden’s presidency, Manchin has opposed and blocked a plethora of legislative initiatives. For instance, Manchin played an instrumental role in the removal of the $15 minimum wage provision that was initially included in the American Rescue Plan.
Subsequently, he expressed his opposition to the For the People Act intended to protect and expand voting rights. The West Virginia Democrat has also opposed several environmental regulatory bills that have been proposed in the current legislative session, including a ban on fracking.
In Dec. 2021, Manchin delivered a gut-punch to the Biden administration when he withdrew his support for the Build Back Better Plan, thereby crushing any hopes of its passage. Biden, facing lethargic polling numbers, was counting on this marquee piece of legislation for a much-needed boost.
In an apparent move to earn back the President’s trust, Manchin has publicly announced that he will be supporting the nominee that is put forward to fill the Supreme Court seat of the soon-to-retire Justice Stephen Breyer.
In the wake of his apparent disloyalty towards the party, many Democrats, including multiple candidates who are running in other states, have called for his disciplining. However, Manchin’s party affiliation must also be considered in this saga.
The fact that Democrats hold a seat in West Virginia, a state that voted for Donald Trump by a margin of 69-30, is itself astounding. If Manchin, who enjoys support from the West Virginian electorate because of his bipartisan reputation, was replaced by a run-of-the-mill Republican, Democrats would lose their razor-thin majority in the Senate.
When taking these political realities into account, Democrats must acknowledge that ‘canceling’ Manchin or, worse yet, forcing him to switch sides, would cause their agenda much more harm than good.
Furthermore, as Trumpism strengthens its grip on the Republican Party, the Democratic Party needs to maintain, and even expand, its status as the only ‘Big Tent’ political party in the country. To reflect the actual ideological composition of the Democratic Party, certain far-left elements must not be allowed to hold everyone else hostage.