Senator Joe Manchin’s stranglehold on the Democratic Party just got considerably tighter.
In an evenly divided Senate with the majority only being determined by the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, Manchin has long been sitting in a powerful catbird seat, able to bend the party’s legislative agenda to fit his whims since his vote is one of the decisive elements necessary for the passage of any Democratic legislation.
Now, a new report from Mother Jones suggests that Manchin may soon increase his leverage through a plan to actually leave the Democratic Party and declare himself an Independent member of Congress, threatening the party’s fragile majority in the Senate.
According to Mother Jones:
“In recent days, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) has told associates that he is considering leaving the Democratic Party if President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill do not agree to his demand to cut the size of the social infrastructure bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, according to people who have heard Manchin discuss this. Manchin has said that if this were to happen, he would declare himself an ‘American Independent.’ And he has devised a detailed exit strategy for his departure.”
That exit strategy is a two-step plan in which the first step would comprise of Manchin sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) resigning from his leadership position as vice chairman of the Senate Democrats’ policy and communications committee which the West Virginia senator sees as sending a signal about the seriousness of his intent.
If this red flag doesn’t help move the negotiations over the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that is the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda more towards Manchin’s liking within a week, then he is reportedly set to change his party registration to independent.
That change alone wouldn’t mean that the Democrats automatically cede the majority in the Senate to Republicans. Manchin would also have to decide to caucus with the GOP instead of the Democrats to trigger that switch in majority control.
Whatever Manchin decides to do if he moves forward with this plan, he is still the most powerful man in the Senate with the ability to determine the outcome of the Biden agenda and shape the negotiations over the reconciliation bill to his wishes since he holds all the cards for control of legislative power.
Mother Jones claims that Manchin has already dangled the possibility of his departure in front of his Democratic Senate colleagues and to Joe Biden himself.
“Manchin told associates that he was prepared to initiate his exit plan earlier this week and had mentioned the possibility to Biden. But he was encouraged by the conversations with Sanders and top Democratsthat occurred at the start of the week and did not yet see a reason to take this step. Still, he has informed associates that because he is so out of sync with the Democratic Party he believes it is likely he will leave the party by November 2022.”
Given Manchin’s recent statements about the reconciliation bill encouraging an “entitlement mentality”‘ and his refusal to support any bill that doesn’t prohibit the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, it appears as if the senator is indeed far out of synch with even moderate Democrats, like Biden.
Whether Manchin’s threats to the Democratic Senate majority will force progressive Democrats to back down and accept a much-reduced compromise reconciliation bill within the West Virginia senator’s $1.75 trillion parameters remains to be seen.
What is clear is that Manchin is relishing his kingmaker status and his power over the Democratic agenda. All the more reason that Democrats have to expand their majority in the Senate next year and siphon the power away from one recalcitrant coal baron.
In a late-breaking addition to this story, Senator Manchin has denied the reports of his threats to leave the Democratic Party, calling them — in his West Virginia down-home manner — “bullshit.”
His denial does not in any way lessen his leverage or his pivotal role in the passage of any Democratic-sponsored legislation.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.