As a self-branded “moderately conservative Democrat,” Joe Manchin certainly hasn’t voted along party lines in his tenure as a West Virginia senator. But with the impending runoff elections in Georgia, he has the potential to dictate the success of President-elect Joe Biden’s potential agenda.
In what might be an extremely slim majority for the Democrats after Georgia’s January runoff election, the Senate could be split along party lines with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the determining vote. In the past, this means defections from party lines could ultimately decide the outcomes of crucial bills as part of a Joe Biden agenda. What does that mean, exactly? Democrats are going to have to appeal to their more moderate members, or some of their bills may not make it past the floor.
Since the 2018 midterm, during which a number of the more moderate Democratic senators, Bill Nelson (D-FL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), were ousted, a large part of the resistance to more radical Democratic policies were elected out of the Senate. As of now, Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, stands out as one of the only Democrats from traditionally Republican states.
And as party lines go right down the middle in the Senate chamber, it’s looking a lot more like his vote could account for a lot of weight for Democrats and, for that matter, Republicans.
What Effect Could Manchin Have?
After Amy Coney Barrett’s rushed confirmation, which has already had a sizable impact on a number of key cases, a significant number of progressives called on Senate Democrats to pack the court, or increase the number of seats on the court. Even more importantly, as Democrats approach that looming majority in the Senate, many Democratic presidential candidates, who campaigned on ending the filibuster, have called for measures to do just that. Joe Manchin put a shot in both of those hopes soon after Joe Biden was announced as the winner, tweeting this:
And, in the past, swing senators have had a huge impact. When Republicans held the Senate at the beginning of Trump’s term, they attempted to vote for many measures that Trump had campaigned on; throughout his four years in office, Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and John McCain (R-AZ) were the deciding votes and ultimately helped Democrats block a series of Republican-sponsored bills, including the deregulation of environmental protections and the so-called “skinny repeal” of Obamacare.
Here’s the effect Manchin could have on a number of Democratic agenda items.
As one of only two Democrats endorsed by the Democrats for Life PAC, Manchin, along with Bob Casey (D-PA), could be the deciding vote on a number of pro-choice bills aimed at expanding abortion rights.
While he has voted to protect state funding for abortion providers, he has also voted to stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood and voted to ban all abortions after twenty weeks. On the other hand, there are a number of Republican senators who have expressed pro-choice sentiments, such as Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Shelley Capito (R-WV). Look for their votes to decide the outcomes of abortion rights votes over the next four years.
Manchin also holds a contentious position on immigration: he is the only member of the Democratic caucus that supports the border wall proposed by the President. He’s previously voted against bipartisan bills to promote a path to citizenship for Dreamers and undocumented immigrants.
Although he has also voted against family separation policies created by the President, he’s taken a role in withholding funding from “sanctuary” cities; he’s publicly supported most of Trump’s policies around immigration, so it’s likely he’ll oppose much of Biden’s immigration legislation.
Finally, and probably most importantly, Joe Manchin stands true to his state’s value of coal production; as a result, he’s voted against the Democrats on a number of environmental protection laws. Personally connected to a number of energy companies, he’s brought some of that interest into his voting record.
He’s voted against the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in ending dependence on fossil fuels, and he’s called Obama-era environmental legislation a “war on coal.” That’s something Biden has made a priority of his administration, so he might need to scale back some of the legislation to get Manchin’s vote.
What This Means for Biden
For a party that’s facing as much division as it is between its more moderate and leftist wings, the Democratic party is likely to have more fracturing as it assumes power once again. While many see that division between the two factions led by Bernie Sanders and now Joe Biden, it’s more likely that legislation will now be focused more on wooing more moderate Democrats.
Because a large part of Joe Biden’s legislation represents a first step towards a more progressive America, many progressives feel compelled to support his agenda as long as it doesn’t directly contradict what progressives are aiming to accomplish. Of course, that isn’t to say that they won’t voice their opposition. To the contrary, politicians like Manchin are likely to see Democrats appeal to them in their legislation.
But even if Democrats fail to win the runoffs in Georgia, which is looking increasingly likely, Manchin’s consensus on Biden policies will be crucial if Biden hopes to be effective in any sense. Similar to how John Roberts was for Republicans before the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, it’s likely that Manchin could hold the success of Democratic policies in his hands.
Regardless of the meaningless conjecture on potentials and what-ifs, I do think it’s important to point out the power Joe Manchin now holds in his hands. His rather unconventional stances on issues are likely to either advance or hold back Joe Biden’s administration. I’m really interested to see how he uses that position over the next couple years.