WASHINGTON — Twenty years ago this spring, President George W. Bush’s White House was in a snit over the refusal by Sen. Jim Jeffords, a soft-spoken moderate Republican from Vermont, to support Bush’s tax cuts.
First, the administration refused to give Jeffords the funds he sought for teaching disabled children. Bush’s chief of staff called Vermont media outlets and complained about Jeffords not supporting Bush. When Bush held a White House ceremony for the Teacher of the Year, Jeffords wasn’t invited, even though the teacher was from Vermont. Then came murmurs that the White House threatened to oppose renewal of the Northeast Dairy Compact, crucial to Vermont.
Jeffords had had enough. He switched parties, becoming an independent and handing Democrats control of the Senate.
The history of Bush’s mishandling of Jeffords is worth revisiting this week, as Democrats begin to show signs of giving Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia the Jeffords treatment. President Joe Biden took aim at Manchin and another moderate Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have resisted Democratic colleagues’ push to abolish the filibuster — claiming falsely that there are “two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.”
One progressive group, VoteVets, is running ads to pressure the two to join in abolishing the filibuster in order to pass voting-rights legislation. Another progressive group has been trying to organize primary challenges to the two. Some left-wingers clamor on social media for Manchin to be stripped of his committee assignments. And the pressure will only increase as the “showdown” vote on the filibuster, and the voting-rights bill, comes the week of June 21.
The odds that Manchin would actually bolt the party are slim. But there’s no point in antagonizing him, because Manchin isn’t susceptible to pressure from the left: In West Virginia, where Donald Trump beat Biden by 39 points and where Manchin easily dispatched a progressive primary challenger in 2018, complaints from the left do him no harm.
So, barring some extraordinary development over the next two weeks, the irresistible force of Chuck Schumer will fail to dislodge the immovable object that is Manchin. Republicans will be allowed to filibuster the For the People Act, Democrats’ sweeping voting-rights legislation. But that should be the beginning, not the end, of the fight to rescue American democracy.
Manchin is working to find 10 Republicans to support key voting-rights protections, overcoming this filibuster without abolishing the filibuster generally. As he wrote in The Post in April, he believes there is “bipartisan support for voting reform and many of the initiatives outlined in the For the People Act.” His Democratic colleagues ought to put that to the test.
After the For the People Act fails, the Senate should bring up its popular and unobjectionable provisions, one at a time. If by some miracle Manchin succeeds in getting Republicans to support their passage, all the better. In the likely event he fails, it will be obvious to America, and hopefully to him, that Republicans have no interest in cooperation.
Democrats could begin by forcing Republicans to vote on the provision to restore enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, gutted by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in 2013. “Inaction is not an option,” Manchin, joined by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wrote to congressional leaders last month about such a bill. Will Republicans filibuster this?
The bill also requires that 100% of votes in U.S. elections be backed up by paper ballots, to combat hacking and fraud. Will Republicans filibuster this?
The bill abolishes sleazy, partisan gerrymandering - in Democratic- and Republican-controlled states alike - in favor of nonpartisan redistricting commissions. Will Republicans filibuster this?
The bill ends political “dark money” by requiring such secretive organizations to disclose their biggest donors. Will Republicans filibuster this?
The bill requires states to alert each other when voters apply for a driver’s license in a new state, to avoid duplicate voter registrations. Will Republicans filibuster this?
The bill would tighten lobbyists’ disclosure requirements and forbid administration officials from lobbying for two years. Will Republicans filibuster this?
Votes should be taken on all the other provisions, too: penalties for those who plant false information about voting times and places, a national standard for handling provisional ballots, a requirement that states allow at least two weeks of early voting for federal elections, a rule that election-equipment vendors be American and a crackdown on foreign nationals funding political campaigns. Will Republicans, after filibustering a Jan. 6 commission, abuse the filibuster to block all of these democratic safeguards?
If so, they will have proved themselves beyond all doubt to be acting in bad faith. And Manchin — who on Thursday night told CNN’s Manu Raju that he wants to “find a path forward” on voting rights and declined to rule out abolishing the filibuster — should be first in line to rescind their powers of limitless sabotage.
Distributed by The Washington Post Writer’s Group.