Manchin’s obstruction defense contradicts legacy of Senate he claims to protect

Joe Manchin of West Virginia is Democrats’ 50th pivotal vote in the Senate – the key to passing bills by simple majority. (With the decisive vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.) It is also essential to change the rule of filibuster.

His vote is seen as pivotal to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposals and passage of Section 1, the For the People Act, to protect the franchise and fix the corrupt campaign finance system .

Manchin’s positions here run counter to a legacy the senator has long insisted he is committed to protecting.

His party is therefore obliged to take note when Manchin declares, as he did in a Washington Post opinion piece last week: “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to remove or weaken the obstruction.” systematic. Manchin also disputes the use of reconciliation as not being good for the country’s future, and he seeks a bipartisan solution to democratic reforms in S. 1.

Yet Manchin’s positions here run counter to a legacy he has long insisted he is committed to protecting.

When Manchin, then Governor of West Virginia, was first elected to the Senate in 2010, he held the seat of a historic figure, the late Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving senator in the United States. history of the United States, which was known for its mastery of the Senate and its rules.

Manchin, in fact, stressed that he saw himself as “a person who will defend the legacy of Robert C. Byrd”.

If we take a look at Byrd’s legacy, however, it’s clear Manchin doesn’t.

Byrd didn’t believe he was weakening the filibuster rule when he made successful revisions to it. He didn’t believe the reconciliation process was bad for the country when he played a key role in its creation. He fought fiercely for his campaign finance reform bill – and never believed that Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., And his fellow Republicans were interested in achieving a bipartisan solution .

We can see Manchin’s conflict with Byrd’s legacy in three specific areas.


Byrd’s record shows he recognized that the Senate filibuster rule – requiring two-thirds of senators present to vote to end obstructions – was not sacrosanct. He supported changing the rule when it had been abused or when the times called for it.

The Senate Rules Master has repeatedly stated that this will only require a simple majority vote. Any time 51 senators are determined to change the rule, Byrd said in a Senate debate in 1975, “that rule will be changed.”

Byrd was twice instrumental in revising the filibuster rule in the 1970s: first, by reducing the number of votes needed to invoke the fence, which ends a filibuster, to 60, and second, by ending post-closure obstructions, which occurred on bills after closure. was invoked to end the filibuster. (In 1985, he tried a third time to change the rule from 60 to three-fifths of those present, but was unsuccessful.)

Byrd clearly believed that revising the filibuster rule when abuse or circumstances required it was good for the country and for West Virginia, the state he represented and loved.

Byrd clearly believed that revising the filibuster rule when abuse or circumstances called for it was good for the country and for West Virginia.

During the debate over Byrd’s second successful rule change, he again said it only required a simple majority. As Byrd explained, “some rules that were necessary in the 19th century and the first decades of this century must be changed to reflect changing circumstances.”

Byrd also supported a number of exceptions to the filibuster rule. He was instrumental in creating the 1974 budget reconciliation process – which Manchin criticized in his opinion piece – and which the Senate just used to pass the Covid 19 relief bill and could again use for the next infrastructure package.

Byrd also supported exemptions from the filibuster rule in the vote to create fast-track trade authority and the defense base closure process.

In fact, it turns out that Congress created 161 exemptions to the filibuster rule in laws passed from 1969 to 2014, according to a study.

Campaign finance reform

Byrd deeply believed that the campaign finance system in Washington was causing serious damage to the country and to the Senate, the institution he revered.

In 1987 and 1988, Byrd, as majority leader, fought an uphill battle to enact his bill to create a publicly funded system for senatorial elections, similar to the successful presidential system created in 1974.

Byrd denounced the senators’ “money hunt”. “We spend countless hours,” he said, “chasing campaign funds across the country – to the detriment of our duties and our voters.”

Byrd held a record eight closing votes over nine months to break the Republican obstruction against his bill. The GOP was not interested in the compromise, however. As Byrd put it during the debate, “The problem is that the distinguished senator from Kentucky [Mr. McConnell], and I say this with all due respect, insist that we can compromise if the compromise is on its terms. “

Senate Republicans were successful in killing Byrd’s campaign finance reform bill – using filibuster.

Byrd made it clear how important he believes campaign finance reform is:

“The integrity of this institution is at stake. The integrity of the electoral and political process is at stake. The integrity of representative democracy is at stake.

Manchin and S. 1

Section 1 (For the People Act), currently pending in the Senate, includes a proposal for public small donor matching funds similar to Byrd’s reform legislation.

Like his predecessor, Manchin expressed deep concern about the “worrying role that money plays in our democracy”. In fact, when Manchin was governor of West Virginia, he proposed and signed a law to create a publicly funded system for state Supreme Court elections.

Manchin echoed Byrd when he recently approved campaign finance reform, saying, “More and more lawmakers are spending their time digging for dollars, instead of legislating for their constituents,” and he explained : “This is why I support and will continuously support the change of our campaign. funding rules. “

However, on the day that Manchin’s editorial called for bipartisan solutions on voting rights and campaign finance reform, The New York Times described McConnell – the country’s longtime main opponent of campaign finance reforms. campaigns – as “enemy number 1” of S. 1 and noted that he “seems to have the full support of his fellow Republicans”.

Manchin created a classic Catch-22 situation. He says he wants a bipartisan solution to voting rights and campaign finance legislation. Yet there is no reason to believe that a Republican senator, let alone the 10 needed to break a blockade, will support a bipartisan solution to genuine campaign finance and voting rights reforms. Led by McConnell, the GOP wants to kill the reform bill – just as it killed Byrd’s reform bill in 1988.

McConnell is a serial assailant and record-breaking filibuster. He used it to block important parts of President Barack Obama’s agenda, and it now appears to be heading down the same path as Biden’s agenda. Yet McConnell had no problem being the last senator to orchestrate a grand exemption from the filibuster rule – which was used to uphold three Supreme Court justices by majority votes.

If Manchin is to honor Byrd’s legacy, he should complete the legendary senator’s mission for campaign finance reform and support the overhaul of the filibuster rule, widely abused in recent years, to adopt S. 1 Manchin must also embrace Byrd’s lucid understanding that the Senate Republicans have no interest in compromising to create true campaign finance reform. He must therefore join the 49 co-sponsors of the For the People law and support an exemption from the filibuster rule so that Article 1, vital to repairing our democracy, can become law.

The alternative is to join with McConnell and the GOP as they use a filibuster to kill S. 1 – just like the GOP killed Byrd’s campaign finance reform bill. This result would protect the efforts of Republicans across the country to suppress the vote, especially people of color, allow the corrupt campaign finance system to worsen further and allow for extreme partisan gerrymandering in many states.

Manchin’s choice here is not about the interests of Republicans or Democrats in Congress. It is about the interests of the American people – in a fair and honest system of representative government.

Norman D. Briggs