Let the Playacting Begin!

UNITED STATES - May 27: Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., speaks during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup to vote on pending nominations in Washington on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - May 27: Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., speaks during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup to vote on pending nominations in Washington on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Photo by Carolin... UNITED STATES - May 27: Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., speaks during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup to vote on pending nominations in Washington on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 22, 2021 9:43 a.m.

Today is the day for voting rights legislation, or H1/S1. But we remain in a kind of play-acting drama. Kirsten Sinema remains steadfast in her opposition to ending the filibuster, a position she reaffirmed last night. But she’s a preening clown. More interesting, befuddling, bizarre is the stance of Joe Manchin.

As you’ll remember, a couple weeks ago, Manchin announced he was opposed to the For the People Act (H1/S1). This didn’t turn the tables too dramatically since that really only meant that the bill went from being ten votes short of 60 to eleven votes short of 60. But then a few days ago Manchin came forward with a revised version of the bill which he said he did support.

So now, in a sense, it’s his bill.

Senate Democrats and the White House have signaled they’re ready to get behind his version of the legislation. And that gets underway today. But what’s the point of the whole exercise if Mitch McConnell will not only refuse to allow a vote on the bill (conventional filibuster) but refuse to allow the bill even to be debated? Manchin says he can’t support a bill. He withdraws to his mountaintop, sprinkles the bill with the West Virginian bipartisany secret sauce and brings it back for passage. But again all Republicans refuse to allow a vote on it. So again, what’s the point? This sounds like a rhetorical question. And it is about 75% rhetorical. But there’s also a quarter of ‘hey, are we going somewhere here?’ ‘No, really. Is there a point to this?’

Filibuster reformers have been hoping – and actually laid out a scenario like this going back to January – that Manchin would eventually tire of the labor and humiliation of taking ownership of popular legislation, putting the bipartisany secret sauce on it and still seeing all Republicans saying no. At some point he’d decide the problem wasn’t the legislation, the problem wasn’t a lack of reaching out. The problem was Republicans.

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And actually there have been a few tiny hints in the last week or so of something like that happening. Alas, far more likely that he’ll just get frustrated again and we’ll have to settle for the moral or pyrrhic victory or whatever else you want to call it of getting 50 votes for the legislation. In other words, an old fashioned majority (50+1) even if it goes down to defeat under Mitch McConnell rules.

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