Manchin Opposes Democracy

Or, at least, he's willing to kill democracy in order to save it.

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In a bizarre op-ed for the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail, Senator Joe Manchin explains “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act.”

His opener sets the tone:

The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics. Least of all, protecting this right, which is a value I share, should never be done in a partisan manner.

These sentences are contradictory. If one is genuinely protecting the right to vote, it can’t be done in a partisan manner. It can have an ancillary benefit for one party and harm another but that’s democracy, not partisanship.

During my time as West Virginia’s secretary of state, I was determined to protect this right and ensure our elections are fair, accessible and secure. Not to benefit my party but all the people of West Virginia. For example, as secretary of state I took specific actions to establish early voting for the first time in West Virginia in order to provide expanded options for those whose work or family schedule made it difficult for them to vote on Election Day. Throughout my tenure in politics, I have been guided by this simple philosophy — our party labels can’t prevent us from doing what is right.

Okay. But what if—I’m just throwing it out there—one of the parties wasn’t guided by that philosophy? What if they had calculated that they can only win by suppressing the vote of demographics unfavorable to them? What then?

Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized. Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.

Ah, you get it, then. The first two paragraphs were just throat-clearing?

As such, congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.

Ah. So . . . what if we lived in a political climate where this wasn’t going to happen? What if there were, say, “state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections” and “partisan policymaking” that “won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.” You’d want to do something about that if you were, say, a member of the U.S. Senate rather than Secretary of State of West Virginia, right?

Democrats in Congress have proposed a sweeping election reform bill called the For the People Act. This more than 800-page bill has garnered zero Republican support. Why? Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump because of actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?

Yep. Pretty much.

The truth, I would argue, is that voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen.

So, is the argument that FTPA is structured so as to achieve partisan advantage for Democrats? Or just that only Democrats are willing to vote for it? Only the former would constitute “done in a partisan manner.”

With that in mind, some Democrats have again proposed eliminating the Senate filibuster rule in order to pass the For the People Act with only Democratic support. They’ve attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past.

As a reminder, just four short years ago, in 2017 when Republicans held control of the White House and Congress, President Donald Trump was publicly urging Senate Republicans to eliminate the filibuster. Then, it was Senate Democrats who were proudly defending the filibuster. Thirty-three Senate Democrats penned a letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warning of the perils of eliminating the filibuster.

The letter really didn’t say much of anything beyond meaningless platitudes about the right to debate, which isn’t what’s at stake here. (Most filibusters, including the one likely to stop the FTPA, are procedural measures to stop legislation. There’s no debate involved at all.) But, sure, Democrats who signed that letter and now urging the end of the filibuster now that doing so accrues to their short-term benefit are being hypocritical.

It has been said by much wiser people than me that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, what I’ve seen during my time in Washington is that every party in power will always want to exercise absolute power, absolutely. Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy. The Senate, its processes and rules, have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult while still delivering solutions to the issues facing our country and I believe that’s the Senate’s best quality.

I share Manchin’s sympathy for this ideal. But, as Steven Taylor (especially) and I have explained ad infinitum, Senate Republicans aren’t interested in compromise. Susan Collins and a couple of others have worked to achieve concessions but, at the end of the day, they’re simply not interested in passing this bill. At the end of the day, then, we have to deal with the filibuster as it has actually operated for going on a quarter-century, not an idealized version of how it would work in a Senate full of Jimmy Stewarts.

Yes, this process can be frustrating and slow. It will force compromises that are not always ideal.

God damn it, Senator. The “compromise” on the table is “Fuck you. We’re not passing any bill that protects voting rights.”

But consider the alternative. Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants?

So, we don’t live in that America. Even with fair and honest elections, Democrats aren’t going to consistently win the White House, House, and Senate—especially under the arcane rules, notably the allocation of Senate seats equally among states and the amplification of that via the Electoral College—that privilege Republicans. And that would be especially true if Democrats passed unpopular legislation when they achieved majority control.

I have always said, “If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.” And I cannot explain strictly partisan election reform or blowing up the Senate rules to expedite one party’s agenda.

Honestly, this is pretty easy to explain and you’re a good explainer who is well respected by your constituents.

The truth is there is a better way – if we seek to find it together.

If we were seeking to find the truth together, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. [See also, Steven Taylor’s post “Sinema’s Misunderstanding of the Senate (and of Basic Politics).”]

The Voting Rights Act, for example, was monumental in the fight to guarantee freer and fairer elections in the United States. Since its original passage, it has been reauthorized with overwhelming bipartisan votes five separate times. In addition, there is bipartisan support to pass the latest iteration of this legislation, the rightfully named John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would update the formula states and localities must use to ensure proposed voting laws do not restrict the rights of any particular group or population. My Republican colleague, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has joined me in urging Senate leadership to update and pass this bill through regular order. I continue to engage with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about the value of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and I am encouraged by the desire from both sides to transcend partisan politics and strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights.

So, we’ll see what happens on this. But it got zero Republican votes in the House and there weren’t anything close to ten Republican Senators lined up in favor as of a couple weeks ago. Hell, you weren’t even on board.

Of course, some in my party have argued that now is the time to discard such bipartisan voting reforms

I do not think literally anyone has made that argument.

and embrace election reforms and policies solely supported by one party. Respectfully, I do not agree.

I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act.

So, you’re voting against legislation you like because people in the other party won’t vote for it? Or there’s something in the bill that unfairly advantages your party? If the former, that’s just bizarre. If the latter, that’s statesmanlike—but requires explanation.

Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster. For as long as I have the privilege of being your U.S. senator, I will fight to represent the people of West Virginia, to seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult and to develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.

While I can’t prove that allowing Republicans to continue rigging elections and thwarting the passage of legislation by democratically-elected majorities won’t heal what’s ailing us, I’m hard-pressed to see how it will. We’ve tried it for a dozen years or so and things seem to have gotten worse.

Conversely, I can imagine a scenario where forcing Republicans to run in legitimately-drawn House districts and in elections where non-whites have equal access to the ballot will force them to adapt their message in ways more conductive to compromise. The Manchin-Sinema vision, which I long shared, is based on the Median Voter Theorem. But it doesn’t work if parties and candidates can choose their own electorates rather than the reverse.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. de stijl says:

    I have no way to understand Manchin but as motiveateably naive.

    He wants / desires / yearns for accordance that ain’t ever gonna happen.

    I like accordance, but that man is a blatant fool.

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  2. de stijl says:

    I can appreciate naivite. It serves a small purpose.

    I do no appreciate a sitting US Senator to be so blindly inept at self – awareness. He is hell-bent on something that ain’t happening and is not going to happen near future.

    I do appreciate the outreach. Misguided, foolish outreach is blatantly stupid, but there is a bit of merit there. Mis-applied.

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  3. Kingdaddy says:

    Any electoral reform is going to advantage one party, or disadvantage another. Freed slaves voted for Republicans. A century later, their descendants, the beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Act, voted for Democrats. The requirement for party-neutral voting measures is ridiculous, particularly because a common reason for passing these laws is usually the hostility of one party to extending full citizenship to some group of people. Expecting the disenfranchised group to have an even chance of voting for the party who wanted to deny them their rights is idiotic. Turning that expectation into a requirement for electoral reform is siding with the oppressor over the oppressed.

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  4. Barry says:

    GOP lawyers have admitted that if more people can vote, the GOP suffers. Manchin is seconding that.

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  5. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Thanks, James.

    Manchin is a rich white man from a southernish state. He’ll be fine. Does he believe the self-contradictory stuff he’s spouting? Who knows?

    He is an enemy of democracy, however he chooses to dress it up.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    Expecting the disenfranchised group to have an even chance of voting for the party who wanted to deny them their rights is idiotic. Turning that expectation into a requirement for electoral reform is siding with the oppressor over the oppressed.

    Agreed.

    Again, my ideal and Manchin’s are the same on this score. I’m willing to take 2/3 of a step forward rather than a full step if 2/3 of the country marches forward with us rather than 1/2. Hell, I’d settle for 1/2 a step to get 2/3 support. But zero steps—or, indeed, a step backwards—to appease the 1/2 who aren’t going to come along regardless? That’s not compromise.

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  7. Kurtz says:

    God damn it, Senator. The “compromise” on the table is “Fuck you. We’re not passing any bill that protects voting rights.”

    Thanks, James! 🙂

    This made my Sunday morning better.

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  8. He is reifying and deifying “bipartisanship” and it is absurd. It is like some bizarre version of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” How many Republican votes does it take for Manchin’s magical bipartisanship to kick in?

    One Republican (Romney) voted to impeach Trump on one of two articles in 2020. Was that “bipartisan”? Probably not.

    Seven Republicans voted to impeach in 2021–based on the column, I guess that was?

    What sense does any of this make?

    I think he truly does have some romantic notion of bipartisanship that motivates him, but how can be in the Senate (or American politics in general) and believe it is beyond me.

    And while SB1 is no panacea (it is, a couple of bandaids on a very large wound) it is better than nothing, And, if he won’t vote for this nothing of consequence on the democratic reform from is coming.

    This is not surprising, but it is damn depressing.

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  9. @Kingdaddy:

    Any electoral reform is going to advantage one party, or disadvantage another.

    Indeed, especially in an era of extreme polarization.

    Really, the only hope pro-democracy reforms have since there is always a built-in pro-status quo bias is for the dominant party to see both the advantage to their party and to democracy writ large. And so, by definition, such reforms are unlikely to have bipartisan support.

    And the truth is, even if the FTPA passed, most of the GOP advantages would remain in place.

    Quite frankly, if the GOP understood how things really worked, they would be in favor of this bill because it would take the steam out of more serious reform efforts and give the main GOP-favoring features of the system more legitimacy.

    In other words, while the bill would make voting easier, which arguably helps Dems, it keeps the basic advantages of Reps in place (e.g., the anti-gerrymandering provisisions are unlikely to make that much difference as even “neutral” single seat districts favor Reps). It is, therefore, a pretty bipartisan bill in its own way.

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  10. Scott F. says:

    God damn it, Senator. The “compromise” on the table is “Fuck you. We’re not passing any bill that protects voting rights.”

    Bravo! I want this on a banner tailing behind an airplane flying circles over Manchin’s home 24/7.

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  11. One more thought: it is one thing for Machin to not be willing to change the filibuster rule over the FTPA, it is another for him to outright state he won’t vote for it.

    His Bipartisanship is My God stance is just stunning.

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  12. senyordave says:

    Joe Manchin is a smart man. Joe Manchin constantly talks about what a chore being a senator is.
    Yet Joe Manchin stays in the Senate, and keeps running for the senate seat every six years. I’m a strong believer in Occam’s Razor. Joe Manchin thinks this stance will help him to get re-elected. Joe Manchin doesn’t give a shit about voting rights.

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  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Joe Manchin is 73 according to the folks at the Innertubes. That’s just about the time that my dad’s Alzheimer’s Disease started to present. Just sayin…

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  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @senyordave:

    Joe Manchin thinks this stance will help him to get re-elected. Joe Manchin doesn’t give a shit about voting rights.

    This, too. Especially the not giving a shit part.

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  15. Scott F. says:

    @senyordave:

    Joe Manchin is a smart man. … Joe Manchin thinks this stance will help him to get re-elected.

    These two statements are mutually exclusive.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    @senyordave:

    Joe Manchin thinks this stance will help him to get re-elected.

    Joe Manchin is not going to be reelected in 2024 regardless of what he does.

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  17. Mister Bluster says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:..Joe Manchin is 73 according to the folks at the Innertubes. That’s just about the time that my dad’s Alzheimer’s Disease started to present. Just sayin…

    73 Me too. I am still together enough to look after myself so far.
    I hope your dad is able to get whatever care he needs.

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @senyordave:

    Joe Manchin thinks this stance will help him to get re-elected.

    Exactly. Talk about naiveté or conservative philosophy is merely a distraction. Manchin doesn’t want to vote on this bill because he feels it will cost him too many votes either way he goes, or at the very least discomfort his very comfortable life. That’s all you need to know to explain virtually everyone of his votes or legislative actions in his entire career.
    @Scott F.: @Kylopod: You are assuming that he will remain a Democrat. If he thinks he can pull off a party switch, he will.

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  19. David S. says:

    Well, that establishes that Joe Manchin is officially anti-democracy. Good to know where he stands, I guess.

    I’m sure Steven will point it out sooner or later, but this? This is something that would get you thrown out of the party in another country. Sinema ain’t there yet, but Manchin’s crossed the line with this, IME.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    On the filibuster, I assume that he and Sinema have an agreement to not leave the other the last person standing — not that anyone has hinted at it, but just because it seems like a perfectly normal thing to do. So, I expect that if the filibuster goes it will be both of them at the same time, after much deliberation, with heaviness in their hearts, blah blah blah.

    He’s signaling support for the Joe Lewis Voting Rights Act — it’s not as strong as the For The People Act, but it’s pretty ok.

    Also, it’s worth noting that throughout his career, he has frequently voted with the Dems when it mattered. He’s voted against things that pass, and he has voted against things that we’re going to fail anyway, but he tends to come around when needed — he just won’t stick his neck out if he can avoid it.

    He’s a Democrat in West Virginia, he thinks that this is what he needs to do, and I give him a pass until his vote is the deciding vote. With Sinema’s similar stand against democracy, he isn’t the deciding vote.

    To me, Sinema is the real villain. Manchin just frustrates me, Sinema disappoints me and infuriates me. She’s bisexual — her rights were used as a political whipping post less than a decade ago. She should know better from personal experience.

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  21. senyordave says:

    @Gustopher: She’s bisexual — her rights were used as a political whipping post less than a decade ago. She should know better from personal experience.

    There are have been more than a few politicians over the years who were content to know that they would not be harassed for their lifestyle once they had power and didn’t care about others. Besides, the Republicans don’t care much about gays anymore, trans people have become their new favorite target. Its real easy to whip up hate against them.

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mister Bluster: My dad passed away about 8 years ago on my birthday. Knowing that his suffering was over was the best birthday present I got that year. Even better than my coworkers throwing me a surprise party.

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  23. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    To me, Sinema is the real villain. Manchin just frustrates me, Sinema disappoints me and infuriates me. She’s bisexual — her rights were used as a political whipping post less than a decade ago. She should know better from personal experience.

    I say we all get “fuck off” rings and raise our fists in solidarity at every one of her appearances.

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  24. Gustopher says:

    @senyordave: She should know better, and she should be better.

    I hope she does her stupid curtsy-thumbs-down thing again, slips and smacks her head against the floor hard enough to knock some sense into her. I really cannot stand her.

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  25. Manchin is representing his constituents rather than slavishly falling in line with his party.

    Isn’t that what a representative supposed to do?

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  26. @David S.:

    I’m sure Steven will point it out sooner or later, but this? This is something that would get you thrown out of the party in another country.

    The kicker there is that if he is kicked out or leaves (and caucuses with the Rs), we get Leader McConnell which would mean all the legislative obstruction plus fights over judicial nominees.

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  27. @Gustopher:

    To me, Sinema is the real villain. Manchin just frustrates me, Sinema disappoints me and infuriates me. She’s bisexual — her rights were used as a political whipping post less than a decade ago. She should know better from personal experience.

    I think that Manchin has a genuine (but, a la Kingdaddy’s post, stupid) belief in the mythical Senate that Robert Byrd taught him about. I think, too, he is likely heavily influenced by being from such an otherwise red state. This would inlufence not just reelection, but probably social acceptance in subtle but important ways.

    I say all that not to let off the hook (he does not deserve that), but to agree that Sinema, to me, is worse. At one point I hoped her style was just a welcome break from staid, stale, old white guys, but she really does come across as wanting to be a social media star rather than a Senator. And one would like to think that her LBGTQ identity would help her understand the value of democracy. Instead, we get what we are getting, which is frustrating.

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  28. @Doug Mataconis:

    Manchin is representing his constituents rather than slavishly falling in line with his party.

    Is he, though?

    But, moreover, he could have agreed not to break the filibuster without coming out and writing this op/ed.

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  29. senyordave says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Maybe when you are talking about tax policy. When you are talking about basic rights of any type, especially voting right (which our country has a rather checkered record on), I would expect a representative to vote their conscience. If you to have one, of course.

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  30. David S. says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Please don’t insult an entire state of West Virginians as being anti-democracy. I’d prefer to believe they’re better than that.

    Maybe you’re right, though.

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  31. Michael Cain says:

    It has been my belief since HR1 was introduced this year that there is more than one (D) Senator that will not vote for it w/o substantial changes. The last time I checked the Senate web site, the bill as marked up by the Rules Committee was not available. Bear with me.

    When experts rate the states’ voting systems for security, accuracy, and ease of use, three states are consistently in the top five: Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Hawaii will probably join them in a few years as they gain experience with the new system they installed in 2019. It’s a vote by mail system modeled after those other three states. So, four states with the best model anyone’s been able to implement, eight (D) Senators.

    As I read S1, all four of those states will have to make substantial modifications. Basically, they will have to add a parallel in-person voting system. At least speaking broadly, the kind of system (and its problems) that they got rid of. In Hawaii’s case, just got rid of. I believe it’s true that Oregon has no in-person voting locations. Hawaii has eight for the entire state, and some islands have none.

    I’ve e-mailed my two (D) Senators asking that they be completely sure that a Colorado style system where vote by mail is the standard practice and in-person is intended for cleaning up edge cases and is (even intentionally) inconvenient, is allowed before they vote for the bill.

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  32. Erik says:

    @Doug Mataconis: sort of. I would argue if they want to be considered leaders and not just weather vanes and button pushers then they should lead. More importantly, though, unless their constituents are opposed to democracy, then voting against improving the democratic process is not representing their constituents well.

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  33. Erik says:

    @Erik: to expand my point a bit: Many people are unable to think past first order effects. Good leaders, the sort of people that belong in high elected office, need to do better than that.

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  34. PT says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Other than that he used it as his rationale, how is this good for the people of WV?

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  35. The Q says:

    If Manchin were a Dem Senator in 1932, “I’m voting AGAINST the New Deal legislation since it’s too partisan. It’s so one sided. Where’s the benefits for the wealthy? and besides, no Republicans will support a 90% marginal tax nor a government guarantee of customer bank deposits. How silly will we look to future generations as our partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.”

    And as far as this “ I have always said, “If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.” Which really means “if my constituents of toothless inbred ignorant illiterate hillbilly meth addicts” can’t understand it, then I can’t vote for it.

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  36. LaMont says:

    Joe Manchin – a guy that apparently would rather support a terrible bipartisan bill than a bill he actually believes in?!? Where I’m from, these people are called “Fake”! These are the type of people that ignores what they truly believe in to go along with the crowd for the sake of being liked (or re-elected). Whether he personally agree with the Democrats or the Republicans is inconsequential to his actions (although the media should do a better job holding him accountable on his personal stance on the issues).

    Manchin is using the “bispartisan” cover to sneak by having to make a difficult choice! He’s not a leader. He’s an imposter with power. And imposters with power do not last long when the spotlights are focused on them! When you have power, people want to see you do something with it – one way or the other!

    Manchin will get voted out and replaced with someone that does not mind wielding that power soon enough! Unfortunately, America’s deomcracy will continue to hang in the balance. This is what happens when people vote for someone without any real convictions to represent them!

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  37. Mister Bluster says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:..My dad passed away about 8 years ago on my birthday. Knowing that his suffering was over was the best birthday present I got that year.

    May he rest in peace.
    My dad died in 2001 at 85. He died at home in his own bed after a brief decline in his health. I was able to stay at my parents home to help my mom take care of him. Only a few weeks earlier when my dad was well enough but it was clear that he was failing my brother had flown in from California to the midwest so my sister and me and him could be together with the parents for one last time. Before then we had not all been together for maybe 15 years.

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  38. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Cain: I’ve thought HR1 was the bill that could be rejected to make the Joe Lewis Voting Rights Act be the reasonable compromise.

    There are some good things in it, but… why else would we have two?

    And why would the Washington, Oregon and Colorado Reps not force changes for all-vote-by-mail states, if they expected it might pass? This wasn’t a surprise, and there’s nothing preventing the house from taking up HR1(b) fixing it…

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  39. Jax says:

    @The Q: Right?! Given all the ways Republican’s prefer to vote, you’d think he’d realize that it might, in fact, give his redneck, hillbilly, meth-head constituents (who aren’t felons) an easier chance to vote….for him, since he’s doing all these favors.

    But….then again…They’re full Trumpie. The writing’s on the wall. He’ll turn, right when there’s a Supreme Court Justice on the line.

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  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @PT: It doesn’t HAVE to be good for the people of WV; they only have to BELIEVE it is. And people tend to be fine with state laws that will prevent OTHER STATES from having “corrupt” elections, especially if they believe that their state will not be affected by it much. The Federal Government Democratic Party apparatus stepping in to interfere with the rights of the several states to control their own elections (as guaranteed in the Constitution–or at least the imaginary one–no less)? Probably not as fine with it. Manchin’s word salad is absolutely perfect in is Palinesque-ishness. He’s supporting the “gold standard” of bipartisan legislating and fighting a power grab by his own party. This is real “Profiles in Courage” stuff for a lot of the sheeple out there.

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  41. @senyordave:

    Democrats either have to accept Mamchin as he hilis or accept the fact that West Virginia would have another Republican Senator

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  42. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Actually, no, he isn’t just there to serve his voters.

    “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” — Edmund Burke

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