U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin waited until the very last minute Friday to cast his “yes” vote for cloture to advance the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and then followed up with another “yes” vote. Manchin stands out as the only Democrat to support Kavanaugh.
There are a number of ways to parse this:
Start by giving Manchin the benefit of the doubt — that he did his due diligence and was truly undecided until the last minute when something in his gut or his conscience or his intellect told him to support Kavanaugh, regardless of pressure from fellow Democrats.
But Washington being what it is, every decision is viewed through a political prism, even if it is not driven by a cold calculation of the impact on elections.
In hindsight, the “yes” vote by Manchin was predictable for a variety of reasons.
He was one of just three Democrats who voted for Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first nominee to the Court. (The other two were Joe Donnelly from Indiana and Heidi Heitcamp of North Dakota.) By supporting several of Trump’s cabinet nominees who other Democrats opposed, Manchin already established that he wouldn’t necessarily toe the Democratic line on nominees.
Unlike the rest of the Democrats, Manchin leaned toward supporting Kavanaugh before the Christine Blasey Ford controversy erupted. If he saw nothing in the FBI report to corroborate Ford’s allegation, it’s reasonable to believe Manchin could be comfortable with his original position.
There is always a debate about whether a Senator’s vote should directly reflect the will of their constituents or whether the citizens elect a Senator to use best judgment on behalf of the people. However, every Senator keeps a close eye on the prevailing winds of their state.
The MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia, which was taken before Ford’s accusation, found that 62 percent of likely West Virginia voters wanted Manchin to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, while 38 percent wanted him to vote “no.”
Manchin can argue that he heard from his constituents and he was simply following their lead.
Of course, Manchin is in a tough re-election fight. A “no” vote would have given Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey a powerful wedge to use against Manchin, especially since Morrisey is campaigning as someone who will support President Trump’s agenda.
Perhaps Manchin is now persona non-grata with progressive Democrats in West Virginia and national Democrats who threw down the gauntlet on Kavanaugh. However, those groups have never been Manchin’s base and, if they are candid, they know they could never depend on Manchin anyway to support a liberal agenda.
Somehow Manchin, who loves to talk about working both parties, always tries to thread the needle in a hyper-partisan Washington atmosphere. His vote on Kavanaugh was another example of how a red state Democrat survives.