Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have made headlines for withholding votes from key Democratic bills, bills that may have shifted the odds for President in 2024 had they passed. In January 2022, their votes prevented filibuster rule changes, which prevents popular legislation from passing without a supermajority. (Passing unpopular bills in a gridlocked Congress is hard. That’s what the decades-long battle for the courts was for.)
Their high-profile defections from President Biden’s agenda have made party allegiances fall into question – by politicians on both sides. Progressives questioned Sinema and Manchin’s party credentials after voting against filibuster rule changes. According to Forbes, 13 billionaire donors who donated to Trump’s campaign have donated to Sinema and Manchin’s campaigns. To the naked eye, Sinema and Manchin seem more like moderate Republicans than conservative Democrats.
That’s a mistake. As of August 16, 2022, Sinema and Manchin have voted in favor of Biden’s position over 90% of the time. Manchin has voted in line with Biden’s position just over 90% of the time. Sinema votes in line with Biden’s position 94% of the time. Celebrated Republican Trump critic, Mitt Romney, voted in line with Biden’s position just under 58% of the time.
Wild accusations that Sinema and Manchin are Republicans disguised as Democrats are a symptom of a long-standing problem with political culture. The perceived reality of politics is shaped by headline events and major legislation. The day-to-day gets buried under the few events that voters can follow simultaneously.
Suggested Article: 2022 Midterm Odds
Kyrsten Sinema & Joe Manchin Defections
Some of the major defections that have gotten Senators Sinema and Manchin in the news are the filibuster rules and Inflation Reduction Act. In early 2022, Sinema and Manchin killed efforts to eliminate the filibuster or change its rules. By keeping popular bills from being passed by a simple majority, Democrats cannot pass bills with strong support among Democrats and Independents, and sometimes Republicans.
(A bill or issue enjoying popular support often means Democrats and Independents overwhelmingly support it. A Data for Progress poll found that 66% of Republicans believed the January 6 riot was “based on legitimate evidence of fraud. 51% of Independents and 87% of Democrats felt the opposite.”)
Failing to change the filibuster rules meant that Democrats couldn’t pass their federal voting rights bill. Without a supermajority in the Senate, the bill was as good as dead. Sinema and Manchin voted for the federal voting rights bill. However, they voted against the filibuster rules that would’ve made passing the voting rights bill with only Democrats possible.
Until he revealed his vote, Manchin was a key holdout on the Inflation Reduction Act. With its significant investments in clean energy and climate initiatives, it gave some critics a reason to think Manchin was an obstacle to some of the most consequential legislation for Democrats. His vote required a thrown bone to fossil fuel interests in West Virginia. But like most other Democratic legislation, Manchin threw his weight behind it.
Politics Beyond the Headlines
In January 2022, a New York Times op-ed played with the idea of a Joe Biden/Liz Cheney ticket in 2024. He argued that it would build the necessary coalition to ensure Donald Trump’s defeat if he wins the Republican primary in 2024.
Cheney’s history as a Trump critic and her prominent position on the January 6 committee make her an important anti-Trump figure. However, that brushes aside the serious gaps in worldviews between Democrats and Republicans hold.
In a March 2019 Meet the Press appearance, Cheney called the Democratic Party “the party of anti-Semitism,…infanticide,… [and] the party of socialism.” It was an extreme reaction to anti-Semitic comments from Ilhan Omar and Democratic positions on abortion, economics, and social programs.
She’s no more a Democrat than Manchin and Sinema are Republicans. Recent headlines may have skewed public perception of Manchin, Sinema, and Cheney. But the reality is that Manchin and Sinema have overwhelmingly supported Biden’s agenda. Less than 18% of Cheney’s votes lined up with Biden’s point of view.
These complex officials are a reminder that there’s a political world outside of Donald Trump that continues to impact real people. There are also serious differences in the parties’ worldviews that temporary alliances cannot mend.