Democrats can learn something from the most powerful Joe in Washington

Joe Manchin 2
Sen. Joe Manchin.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin is the deciding vote in the Senate, making him the most powerful Joe in Washington.
  • While his moderate policies frustrate some Democrats, he also has an important lesson to teach them.
  • He wins in a deep red state and if more Democrats could win elections like him, then his moderate stances wouldn’t be as much of an issue.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is the first Joe in the White House, ever. But even though he’s Commander-in-Chief, there’s another politician named Joe who may have more power than our president: West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

The most powerful Joe in Washington

Joe Biden has the big ideas – infrastructure, voting rights, racial healing, jobs, guns, climate, and, of course, nailing COVID- but as we learned with the stimulus bill, Joe Manchin has the final say on what gets passed. Manchin’s opposition ultimately doomed the $15 minimum wage, reduced eligibility for stimulus checks, and forced last-minute tweaks to unemployment insurance expansion.

And when Manchin said he’d vote against Neera Tanden, Biden’s original nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, her fate was all but sealed in a Senate split 50 Democrats to 50 Republicans.

Everyone’s waiting with baited breath every time Manchin speaks – what does he think about the filibuster? When he said he’s open to making the filibuster harder, Democrats were aglow that they could pass more of Biden’s ambitious agenda.

What kind of gun safety does he support? He has publicly come out against the two gun safety bills passed by the House in March that expand background checks for most gun purchases, instead preferring background checks only for commercial gun transactions.

Where does he stand on voting rights? Manchin is the only Democrat who is not co-sponsoring the For the People Act legislation in the Senate and is pushing for bipartisan compromise.

Joe Manchin is at the exact center point of the Senate ideologically and therefore numerically. He represents among the reddest of red states, which gave loser President Donald Trump 68% of the vote, even in 2020. So Manchin stays alive by tacking towards the center, not the left.

The most narrow majority possible

Manchin being the focal point has frustrated those of us who want Biden to make real progress on his agenda. The president needed a Democratic Senate to get anything of note done, and the wise people of Georgia provided that. Now the expectations could not be higher.

Every time Joe Manchin peeks to his right a bit, there’s speculation that he’ll switch parties – which Manchin flatly dismisses – or be challenged in a primary.

But we need every Democrat we can get to maintain a majority. The moderates give the Dems the majority in the House and Senate. And if the party starts to lose purple states and swing districts, it will lose the majority.

The Democrats, of course, should have a bigger majority in the Senate. They lost a bunch of winnable races in 2018 and 2020 – such Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, who lost after a sexting scandal. If more purple or even deep red state Dems were able to get elected like Manchin, his vote and the margin wouldn’t be as much of an issue. So Manchin is invaluable in the sense that he can actually win in a place that no other Dem would really have a chance, and he can win when Dems in other, seemingly more friendly states, cannot.

In the meantime, let’s live with Manchin, because if he switched parties Mitch McConnell would be leader. If he lost in a primary, West Virginians would elect a Republican. We need Joe Manchin right now because if we lost him, we also would lose any chance at progress.

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