'I'm Not Agreeing to Any of This': Joe Manchin Warns of the Perils of Radical Filibuster Reform


Sen. Joe Manchin is the grinch who keeps on stealing stuff even after Christmas — and we couldn’t be happier.

On Tuesday, returning to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays, the West Virginia Democrat announced that he wouldn’t be in favor of changing the filibuster to get Democrats’ election “reform” legislation through the Senate, arguing any change needed to involve members of the opposite party and that it could lead to unintended consequences.

The move comes after Manchin announced in December he wouldn’t be voting for President Joe Biden’s massive $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation, arguing it was too big and would turbocharge inflation. (Those are two things, it’s worth noting, that we’ve covered extensively here at The Western Journal. We’re going to continue to bring you the truth about what Biden’s spending is going to do to America, no matter how good the mainstream media wants to make it look; you can help us by subscribing.)

Manchin made the remarks to reporters as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer promised to force a vote on changing the filibuster by Jan. 17 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — in order to create a carve-out that would allow voting rights legislation to bypass the 60-vote supermajority, according to The Hill.

There are currently few exceptions to the 60-vote supermajority to end debate in the Senate and move to a straight party-line vote.

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Budgetary and taxation issues — like “Build Back Better” — can be passed with the votes of 50 Democratic senators (with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote) via a process called reconciliation. In 2013, Senate Democrats, frustrated over GOP efforts to block judicial nominations, invoked the so-called “nuclear option” on executive positions and federal court nominees. Republicans extended this to Supreme Court nominees in 2017.

Manchin voted against the Democrats’ 2013 move to invoke the nuclear option on judicial nominees and said it would be his “preference” that any rules change be made with bipartisan support.

“Being open to a rules change that would create a nuclear option, it’s very, very difficult. It’s a heavy lift,” he said Tuesday, according to The Hill.

“I’m talking. I’m not agreeing to any of this,” he said. “I want to talk and see all the options we have open.”

Should the filibuster be kept in place?

As for the carve-out for voting rights, Manchin said this was a slippery slope. Compromise is the heart of the Senate’s deliberative process. Killing the filibuster, Manchin suggested, would kill the need for compromise.

“Anytime there’s a carve-out, you eat the whole turkey. There’s nothing left,” Manchin said, according to The Hill.

That was a hard lesson from the Democrats’ 2013 invocation of the nuclear option for judicial nominees. Not only did it become significantly harder for then-President Barack Obama to get any cooperation after the GOP took control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, it allowed his successor, Donald Trump, to remake the judiciary posthaste.

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In this case, the Democrats want two pieces of voting legislation pushed through via the nuclear option. According to National Review, one is the Freedom to Vote Act, which would set a 15-day minimum early voting period throughout the country, standardize voter ID requirements to encompass a wide variety of documents, make Election Day a federal holiday, standardize mail-in voting requirements and make it easier for groups to sue states over redistricting.

The other, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would restore parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required certain states to pre-clear elections changes with the federal government.

“This has become an almost-weekly routine: My friends on the other side trying to give Washington unprecedented power over how Americans vote,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during debate on the latter bill in November, according to National Review.

“In many of these bills, congressional Democrats propose to make themselves into a national board of elections,” he added. “Today, there’s a small difference: They want instead to hand that power to Attorney General [Merrick] Garland. Different branch of government, same bad idea.”

So, where do the Democrats go from here? Later in the day Tuesday, according to The Hill, Manchin said he was still in talks with Democrats over filibuster changes, although what he said didn’t exactly sound promising for the left.

“I think the filibuster needs to stay in place, any way, shape or form that we can do it,” he said. As for the biggest possible change being floated aside from a carve-out — the so-called “talking filibuster,” where Republicans could only block debate as long as they held the floor and kept speaking, a la “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — Manchin said there had been discussions on the issue but there were questions about “how do you get off of it.”

Manchin mentioned smaller changes — removing the 60 votes needed to start debate on legislation or to cutting the filibuster back to three-fifths of senators actually present for a vote as opposed to a hard number of 60 votes — but neither of those would fundamentally change the fate of either election reform bill.

And there’s another elephant — or, pardon the pun, donkey — in the room: Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the other Senate Democrat who’s been wary of invoking the nuclear option. While she’s gotten less media attention about her intentions than Manchin has, Axios reported Wednesday that she “reiterated during [a] Democratic lunch she will not support any effort to get rid of the 60-vote threshold, according to two sources familiar with the call.”

If both senators stick to their guns, one predicts that sometime in the distant future — perhaps even posthumously — Manchin and Sinema will be given some degree of quiet acknowledgement for saving the Democratic Party from itself as it was prepared to pull a full-on “Thelma and Louise” and drive straight off the cliff of political excess.

Even before Build Back Better, President Joe Biden’s administration and his Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate had already signed off on enough long-term spending financed by dubious sources of short-term revenue. Both Manchin and Sinema prevented them from doing it one more time.

As for the filibuster carve-out, it’s still somewhat remarkable that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid died on Dec. 28 and his passing didn’t trigger at least a note of caution in the minds of Senate Democrats.

Reid might be best remembered for deciding to go the nuclear-option route on judicial nominees in 2013, opening a Pandora’s box that culminated with President Trump getting three justices on the Supreme Court, 54 appeals court justices confirmed (as many in four years as Obama did in eight, as Pew Research notes) and another 174 district court judges on the bench.

These are the perils of radical filibuster reform. If Democrats think this is just another limited “carve-out,” they need only look at recent history.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture