Public Manchin, Private Manchin

One of these things is not like the other.

portrait

In yesterday’s post “Democrats Even Madder at Manchin,” I accused the West Virginia Senator of “pulling away the football” after scuttling yet another deal made by his party’s caucus. Washington Post Congressional bureau chief Paul Kane offers a different take.

For a full year, Democrats have tried to divine what Sen. Joe Manchin III would say yes to, beginning with private huddles last fall at the White House to more recent Zooms with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

They seem to have all made the same mistake: hearing the nice tones that the West Virginia Democrat said in their private meetings, while dismissing his pessimistic comments in public as standard negotiating ploys.

Instead, Manchin is the odd politician whose public pronouncements, whether in brief Capitol hallway interviews or in detailed prepared statements, carry more weight than whatever he tells his colleagues in private.

Offhand, that strikes me as a distinction without a difference. He’s deliberately signaling to colleagues that he’s negotiating in good faith and then gets the vapors when it comes time to shake hands. But Kane persists:

[I]n private, Manchin often allows other negotiators to hear what they want to hear. He says nice things about certain proposals, talks about wanting to get a deal, creating what turns out to be false momentum for the really big deal.

Out in the hallways, after those meetings, Manchin has continually delivered more neutral assessments of where things stood.

His comments to the press Wednesday, after the latest scorching inflation report showed prices continuing to rise, telegraphed his decision Thursday to support only the slimmest of measures.

“I’m very, very cautious. And I’m going to make sure that I have every input on scrubbing everything humanly possible that could be considered inflammatory,” Manchin told reporters that day.

He said it was “not tougher at all” to reach a deal after that inflation report because it only confirmed his fears that he has been talking about for months.

“I was talking about inflation before it was even thought about it. Now I’m more concerned than ever,” he told reporters.

So, yes, it’s true that Manchin has been warning about big spending packages leading to inflation for quite a long time. If he was never going to sign off on these deals, that’s his right. From the beginning, I’m defended his rather unique position of being a Democrat from a one of the most conservative states in the union and cautioned his colleagues to be careful in what they wished for when railing against him.

But the very essence of legislating is reaching acceptable compromises. Manchin, by virtue of potentially being the 50th vote in a reconciliation package (which is therefore exempt from the filibuster), holds all the leverage. So, why not be clear on where he stands? Whatever his threshold is simply has to serve as the ceiling for a deal (unless Krysten Sinema has a low threshold on a particular issue).

“Allow[ing] other negotiators to hear what they want to hear” is dishonest, cowardly, or both. Either way, it’s inimical to the legislative process.

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. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Allow[ing] other negotiators to hear what they want to hear” is dishonest, cowardly, or both.

    No, its simply achieves a condition of maintaining maximum maneuverability for future discussions.

    Manchin is doing Politics in public and Governance in private…but hes letting the former lead the latter– not the other way round. Its the natural condition of US government when there’s no clear dominant Party.

    None of this should privately be taken personal. Joe simply recognizes that the Age of Institutionalism, a byproduct of Post WWII Democrat majority dominance, is over. The 3 ring circus of American government will respond to the strongest Political machine–unless of course, one of those machines can achieve clear supermajority dominance for multiple election cycles in succession.

    Only then, will the public debate be the dominant Party discussing policy amongst itself…a condition of the 1940s-90s the crowd here is most familiar and comfortable with.

    This is why the Democrats geriatric leadership is so dangerous and self-harming. They can’t see the paradigm change and are trapped in a failed theory of victory thats is wracking up astonishing losses. Roe overturned is frankly a public beheading.

    Younger Dems see this, AOC sees this (although she’s aiming her Political performances at the wrong target audience IMO), middle-aged and elderly Democratic Pols are blind..fighting WW2 technology with WW1 strategy.

    Dr Taylor’s message is about Structures, MR tells us about Narrative and Storytelling, JB32’s message is the key to ALL of this is Politics: Deliberate communication designed to motivate and persuade a majority of people using common, shared energizing principles. Hope, Fear, Anger, Loathing, Envy, Love, Hate. You can craft a political narrative on anything (i.e. reproductive rights) aimed through any or all of these millieus and the common voter will respond.

    This is how you got Obama-Trump voters. They have more than one energizing principle, none of them base on the Academics of logic, data, or policy proposal. They voted for the best Politican in the race, not the best candidate to lead the Executive Branch. They’ll do so again in 2024. Frankly, Biden is a better Politican than people are giving him credit for so I wouldn’t count him out…yet.

    3
  2. wr says:

    If Joe Manchin told the caucus what he really planned to do, there would be no reason for them to treat him as the most important person in every room — it’s really that simple. Manchin is always going to vote to protect and enlarge his personal fortune, no matter how many of the little people that crushes.

    And this writer is simply playing the “contrarian” game — publish something that so completely contradicts logic, reason and common sense in hopes that it will get you clicks.

    4
  3. gVOR08 says:

    Why is there an entire industry rationalizing and whitewashing Manchin’s actions? It’s a sort of intraparty version of Murc’s law. It can’t be that Manchin is a greedy asshole, it has to somehow be that the fault of the real Democrats. Manchin is acting like the GOPs on Obamacare. If you add this we’ll support it. If you delete that we’ll support. You added this? You deleted that? April Fools! Why is he behaving like a Republican? Occam’s Razor would suggest it’s Republican money.

    He’s getting paid to pull away the football. Before he can pull away the football he has to lie to get the real Dems lined up to kick the football. And he prefers to lie off the record, providing the slim basis for Kane’s horse race tout column. It’s actually a pretty slick con. He creates the threat that he might agree to do something useful, then he gets paid to not do it.

    3
  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    It appears to me that the consensus view that I get from combining the observations of all of the comments so far is that Manchin is a worst-case worse-case scenario. You simply have to assume that whatever he says effectively means nothing substantive. I’ve worked with people like that. The best choice has seemed to me to be creating whatever work arounds were possible to move things forward in whatever way was possible.

    In this case, it means expect no progress that you can’t get working with Mitch.

    1
  5. DK says:

    @wr:

    Manchin is always going to vote to protect and enlarge his personal fortune, no matter how many of the little people that crushes.

    This.

    @gVOR08:

    Why is there an entire industry rationalizing and whitewashing Manchin’s actions?…It can’t be that Manchin is a greedy asshole, it has to somehow be that the fault of the real Democrats.

    And this. The simple explanation is Manchin’s flaws are on display: dishonesty, corruption, selfishness. I mean it need not be more complicated than that.

    But many pundits make excuses because the press is dominated by people like Manchin: nice enough, wealthy, comfortable, center-right by any objective measure…but Democrat-leaning, small-L liberals because they’re genuinely horrified by the GQP’s bigoted extremism.

    Ask them to pay higher taxes to lift all boats and protect the planet? Forget it. Why? They and their kids are fine and gonna be fine. Protecting that inheritance is paramount. Besides, the welfare queens are gonna use all the money on drugs.

  6. Argon says:

    Joe Manchin is Tom Smykowski…

    Bob Slydell : What you do at Initech is you take the specifications from the customer and bring them down to the software engineers?

    Tom Smykowski : Yes, yes that’s right.

    Bob Porter : Well then I just have to ask why can’t the customers take them directly to the software people?

    Tom Smykowski : Well, I’ll tell you why, because, engineers are not good at dealing with customers.

    Bob Slydell : So you physically take the specs from the customer?

    Tom Smykowski : Well… No. My secretary does that, or they’re faxed.

    Bob Porter : So then you must physically bring them to the software people?

    Tom Smykowski : Well. No. Ah sometimes.

    Bob Slydell : [So, Joe Manchin] What would you say you do here?

    Tom Smykowski : Well–well look. I already told you: I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don’t have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?

  7. Gustopher says:

    @wr:

    Manchin is always going to vote to protect and enlarge his personal fortune, no matter how many of the little people that crushes.

    If this was the case, it would be easy Southtowns deal with him — just buy him off.

    It’s much worse, he’s pricipled, but his principle is that he he is a moderate, a centrist that brings both sides together. And without someone to his right, he’s going to get cold feet and fail to support, even if the new deal he is scuttling is what he sketched out as acceptable while scuttling the last deal.

    There’s a lot of BBB that was tossed out already because of Manchin that we would like to pass. I think we should be trying to get the child tax credit passed, and see if Romney still supports his own proposal — we might be able to completely bypass Manchin, and that’s the only way forward.

  8. Michael Cain says:

    @Gustopher:

    …and see if Romney still supports his own proposal…

    Come on. Romney’s proposal was to increase the Child Tax Credit, significantly decrease the Earned Income Tax Credit, and eliminate head-of-household filing status (which would punish low-income single parents). He’s not going to suddenly drop the latter two of those.

    1
  9. Lounsbury says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    They have more than one energizing principle, none of them base on the Academics of logic, data, or policy proposal. They voted for the best Politican in the race, not the best candidate to lead the Executive Branch. They’ll do so again in 2024.

    Emphasis added.
    Perhaps this can be rephased from “best Politician” which risks being rather misunderstood as a moral value judgement by the usual commentariat to “the best appealer and pitchman”…

    @Gustopher: The accusations of corruption rather do seem misplaced. Manchin’s economic interests aside, he would without doubt be aligned in the same fashion as he fundamentally believes it is correct on the econonic side – principalled, just happening to be principled in a fashion the Lefties here despise.

    The fundamental error on the climate side from the Democrats is charging straigh on directly targetting hydrocarbon fuels interest rather than taking the indirect enabling path – being mired in the regulatory and prescriptives mode, whereas the economics of the market and the real adoption constraints now are now not in need of subsidising or mandates but rather addressing physical and physical-related red-tape barriers. Physical being the rubbish state of the American grids (shambolically in the plural whereas it should be in the singular) nad in the red tape for RE at scale, and for grid expansions needed.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Cain: And even if the Democrats are willing to accept that dog’s dinner proposal, he’s going to need to backpedal from it so that Democrats won’t be able to have said they accomplished something. As far as I can see, we’re still in Makethen####erincumbentaonetermpresidentland (or is that place a “stan?”).

    1
  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: ” Physical being the rubbish state of the American grids (shambolically in the plural whereas it should be in the singular) nad in the red tape for RE at scale, and for grid expansions needed.”

    Which Manchin also opposes changes to. Where’s the next move, great knower of how to do stuff?

  12. Lounsbury says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I am not aware that Manchin actually opposes grid upgrades at all. To date reporting and chatter indicate he opposes RE generation connection mandates for utilities, and similar specifically RE targetting incentivisations for utilities. Which you lot seem to be unable to differentiate from the subject of generation-source agnostic grid upgrading, which was the focus of my comment, and to which I am not aware of any documented opposition from him.

    Actually understanding his opposition rather than circus fun house mirror versions might help.

  13. DK says:

    @Lounsbury:

    The accusations of corruption rather do seem misplaced. Manchin’s economic interests aside…

    Setting aside the bribery, accusations of taking bribes seem misplaced.

    Derp.