Commentary

Joe Manchin may have officially killed the Equality Act & the rest of Biden’s agenda

Sen. Joe Manchin
Sen. Joe ManchinPhoto: U.S. Senate

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has made it clear: he is inalterably opposed to any changes to the Senate filibuster.

“There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” Manchin declared earlier this week. “The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation.”

Related: Joe Manchin is quietly signaling that he may vote against the Equality Act

That means the West Virginia Democrat probably just killed the Equality Act, along with virtually every other part of the Biden administration’s legislative agenda.

Manchin is not alone in his opposition. He is joined by out bisexual Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Because Senate Democrats need every one of their 50 members to change or eliminate the filibuster, any one Senator can kill the plans the majority of their colleagues want. In this case, two of them are doing so.

The filibuster is one of those Senate rules that are as much abused as mythologized. Most people think of the filibuster as Jimmy Stewart standing against corruption in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but the filibuster has a long history as a handy tool for racists.

In fact, the majority of its use through history was to block civil rights legislation. In a way, history is repeating itself now.

Thanks to more recent changes to the filibuster, Senators no longer even have to hold the floor by talking endlessly. They just need to threaten to. All Republicans have to do is make sure that they have secured at least 40 votes for their policy positions to signal that they won’t prevent a filibuster.

Republicans have been united in using this minority veto to stop anything that they don’t like. The Obama administration’s progress was regularly hindered by the GOP’s use of the threat of a filibuster.

For reasons that would escape anyone who has been following the GOP for the past 20 years, Manchin and Sinema continue to insist that the filibuster is actually the best way to achieve bipartisan legislation.

“Every time the Senate voted to weaken the filibuster in the past decade, the political dysfunction and gridlock have grown more severe,” Manchin insisted in a Washington Post op-ed to declare and explain his position.

That view doesn’t square with reality. The relative strength of the filibuster has nothing to do with gridlock. Republican stubbornness does.

Republicans have hardly been shy about making their plans known. Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans, explicitly shunned bipartisanship during the Obama presidency because it would benefit Obama.

McConnell had stated his goal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Yet somehow, Manchin and Sinema think that ten Republicans are going to defect from the party line to collaborate on major legislation, like the Equality Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Republicans have used the appearance of negotiating to slow legislation without ever supporting it. Obama wasted a good year in negotiating with Republican senators on the Affordable Care Act, only to realize that they were never going to vote for it, no matter what change he made.

To put it another way: Republicans are Lucy, Democrats are Charlie Brown, and the Equality Act is the football. Manchin and Sinema are siding with Lucy.

In some ways, Manchin’s position is understandable. He’s a Democrat from West Virginia, a state that went for Donald Trump by nearly 40 points last year. In such a Republican stronghold, his position is precarious,

Sinema is more of a mystery. She’s been charting her own course since arriving and often seems more at home chatting with Republican senators than Democratic ones. No matter their reasons, Manchin and Sinema are effectively killing any chances for the Equality Act this session, along with most of the rest of Biden’s agenda.

When Republicans campaign next year on how effective they were at stopping the progressive agenda, they should give a shoutout to Manchin and Sinema for their help.

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