Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., speaks during a Senate hearing Thursday, May 5, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Joe Manchin said he would do “anything” to prevent school shootings like the one that left at least 19 children and two teachers dead in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. Anything but change the Senate filibuster.
“It’s absolutely awful,” said the Democratic senator from West Virginia told reporters Tuesday evening. “You all know where I stand. I will do everything I can.
But that does not include changing Senate rules to allow legislation to be passed by a simple majority rather than 60 votes.
“The filibuster is the only thing keeping us from total madness. Total madness,” he said when asked if he would reconsider his opposition to politics.
The biggest political risk Manchin has taken in his career has been co-drafting gun control reforms in the wake of the latest school massacre that killed more children than Uvalde. The fact that he is not even considering amending the filibuster to renew this legislation shows how strongly he opposes this change and erases any lingering hopes that Senate Democrats could pass significant legislation at any time. in a close future.
Manchin broke with the National Rifle Association and drafted legislation with Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey to expand background checks following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 young children. It was a huge political risk on the senator’s part, given his state’s strong gun culture and dark red politics. The NRA, which had backed him in previous elections, came down hard on him when he was re-elected in 2018, spending big on a race he barely won after picking up statewide victories for much of his career. But the Manchin-Toomey background check bill failed in the Senate in 2013 because only 55 senators backed the legislation, fewer than the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster.
The Uvalde massacre is the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, and just the latest in a long string of mass shootings from Buffalo to El Paso to Parkland to Las Vegas to Orlando to many other cities and towns around the years that left thousands of Americans dead and more than 10,000 injured.
Democrats lost a majority in the Senate in 2014, the election after a minority of senators used the filibuster to block Manchin-Toomey (although the bill would have been blocked in the GOP-controlled House even if it had been passed by the Senate). It took Democrats six years to claw back the tiniest of majorities. Now they are on the verge of squandering that majority without a single significant legislative achievement.
It remains unclear whether Senate Democrats would be able to pass serious gun control reforms, even if Manchin reversed his position on the filibuster. Manchin has already expressed skepticism on broader gun control measures like an assault weapons ban, arguing that his slimmed down version to expand background checks is the only thing that had a chance of passing the Senate. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and a handful of other Democratic senators also oppose ending the filibuster, and there is also no indication that they are reconsidering their positions in the wake of Uvalde.
Democrats could theoretically hang on to the House and win enough Senate seats this fall to pass major legislation over Manchin’s objections, but given how dismal the domestic political climate is for their party and declining polls of President Biden, it’s probably a pipe dream. Democrats are almost certain to lose their majority in the House and likely their slim majority in the Senate this fall.
Manchin and other Democratic filibusters worry that eliminating the filibuster will deepen partisanship and allow Republicans to trample Congress the next time they gain unified control of government. It is a real concern. But while leading Republicans have vowed to keep the filibuster going, it’s unclear whether they actually will if they return to power. And progressives argue that the stakes are simply too high on too many issues where not acting is worse than any possible fallout.
The filibuster has stalled a number of key Democratic priorities, including national voting rights legislation, but that’s not the only reason Democrats have failed to deliver major legislation.
Senate Democrats failed to pass radical legislation to mitigate global warming, help pay for child care costs and regulate prescription drug costs just because they couldn’t convince Manchin and Sinema to back a package that only needed 50 Democratic senators to pass, showing that even when filibuster is not an option they often fail to get their 50 members to agree on major legislation in an evenly divided senate. Recent attempts by Democrats to pass legislation guaranteeing abortion rights failed to even garner a majority in the Senate because Manchin opposed it and voted with the GOP.
Manchin may think that ending the filibuster would lead to “total madness”. But as the saying goes, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” He seems content to repeat the loop of the Senate talking a lot and doing nothing until the Democrats are back in the Senate minority, no matter what horrors he faces.