Samuel Corum / Getty Images; Alex Wong / Getty Images
Democrats who hoped that tight control in Washington, DC would lead to a wave of votes to approve new progressive policies face a major obstacle – the moderates in their own party.
Moderate Senate Democrats in Republican-leaning states and swing states are loosening the power that comes with a 50-50 Senate, where every vote has the potential to make or break a bill.
Members of the small but powerful group this week worked with a handful of Republicans to come to an agreement on a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure framework. Earlier this year, they won concessions in President Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief program. And they serve as gatekeepers on the way to other major progressive priorities like voting rights legislation, immigration and perhaps even infrastructure.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, has become one of the leading moderates willing to work outside traditional leadership channels on issues such as border security and infrastructure. On the latter issue, she launched her own talks with Republicans, led by Utah Senator Mitt Romney, to form a task force of 10 senators – even as the main Senate Democrats began working on their own fully partisan legislation.
Bargaining is the latest sign of the enormous influence a few senators can have in a very divided Senate.
Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin are the two most prominent Democrats pushing the Senate to push back partisan plans and enforce bipartisan legislation on virtually every front. Manchin in particular has repeatedly stated that he will not agree to overturn Senate rules to make it easier for Democrats to act.
“I am not ready to destroy our government,” Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill last month. “I think we’re going to get together. You have to have faith that there are 10 good people.”
Comments like these have drawn fire from progressive House lawmakers and activist groups who say Democrats were elected to lead the House, Senate and White House and have a responsibility to pass legislation which reflects the policies they promised voters in 2020.
Who are the moderates?
There is a small group of moderate Senate Democrats who have largely avoided choosing sides when it comes to removing filibuster, which requires 60 votes to proceed with most laws. But others oppose partisan legislation on a case-by-case basis.
Swing-State Freshman Senator Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., And Senator Maggie Hassan, DN.H. – both running for re-election next year – are among the few to have turned down a position on filibuster in recent months.
Others, like Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Chris Coons, D-Del., Tom Carper, D-Del., And Angus King, I-Vt., All voted against establishing a federal minimum of $ 15 per hour. salary. Others have quietly avoided commitments on legislation like the People’s Voting Rights Act and the finer details of negotiations on an infrastructure package.
Manchin and Sinema have given other Democrats who can share their views coherent political cover to dodge questions and decline firm commitments on the legislation. The very slim majority in the Senate means that as long as a Democrat is prepared to publicly block a bill, no one else should join him unless he wants to.
Progressive Democrats in the House like Reps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, both from New York, have been particularly frustrated when their fellow Democrats stand in the way of Biden’s agenda.
During the Obama administration, people thought we would have a 60 Dem majority for a while. It lasted 4 months.
Democrats are burning precious time and impacting negotiations with the GOP which won’t even vote for a Jan.6 commission. McConnell’s plan is to run out of time.
It’s a commotion. We have to move now.
– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 9, 2021
Joe Manchin is unmoved by leaders who have spent decades organizing for civil rights.
Manchin is not moved by the opinions of his constituents.
Manchin is not moved by the bills to suppress GOP voters in 43 states.
Because Manchin is only moved by donor companies and their agenda. https://t.co/hEV7RsOp6f
– Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) June 8, 2021
They argue that Democrats must respond to Republicans with the tactics and force that GOP senators used to block legislation under former President Barack Obama. Many point to the comments that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Made last month promising to repeat this obstruction to block Biden’s policies.
“We are one hundred percent focused on shutting down this new administration,” McConnell said at a press conference in his home state of Kentucky. “We face serious challenges from a new administration, a slim majority of House Democrats and a 50-50 Senate to make America a socialist country, and that is 100% my goal. “
Bowman went so far as to call Manchin “the new Mitch McConnell” in a recent interview on CNN.
Most Senate Democrats say they’re not surprised Manchin, in particular, is sticking to his positions. Coons, who is a close ally of Biden, said Manchin had always been consistent in his approach.
“Joe Manchin, since he arrived here – and we were sworn in the same day – was the most centrist Democrat in our caucus and insisted on two-party politics as much as possible, ”Coons said. decade.”
Many Senate Democrats say privately that attempts to pressure Manchin and Sinema could be counterproductive. Both have publicly embraced their positions and have not hesitated to defend them on several occasions.
That’s part of why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., is forcing votes in June to prove Republicans won’t accept major parts of Biden’s platform. The Senate is about to consider everything from LGBTQ equality to paycheck fairness and voting rights.
Schumer informed Democrats of the plan in a letter last month. He said bipartisanship has had limited success so far this year and Democrats have “seen the limits of bipartisanship and the resurgence of Republican filibuster.”
“Senate Democrats are doing everything in our power to push legislation forward in a bipartisan fashion when and where the opportunity exists,” Schumer wrote. “But we won’t wait months and months to pass meaningful legislation that works for the American people.”
This tactic could also force quiet opponents within the Democratic Party to come forward and join Manchin and Sinema in opposition to the progressive left.