Joe Manchin was not on the ballot in Georgia’s hotly-contested Senate runoff election last Tuesday, but he emerged a clear winner anyway.
The victories by Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff splits the U.S. Senate evenly—50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.
The Vice President votes in the case of ties—Kamala Harris for at least the next four years—so Democrats have the narrowest advantage.
But for Senate Democrats to advance their agenda they will need every vote, including Manchin’s. The challenge for the Senate Democratic leadership is that Manchin has more in common philosophically with many of his Republican counterparts than members of his own party.
For example, Manchin opposes ending the filibuster rule, which requires at least 60 votes to pass a bill. He is against adding members to the U.S. Supreme Court. Manchin has called the most liberal proposals by Democrats, including The Green New Deal, “all this socialism.”
“I am a proud moderate conservative Democrat,” Manchin said in an interview with Fox News in November. “Maybe there’s not many of us left, but I can tell you what this country wants is moderation.”
Manchin is no rubber stamp for Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. According to the political website 538, Manchin’s votes have been in line with Trump’s position 51 percent of the time, that is the third most of all Senate Democrats over the last four years (just behind Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and just narrowly ahead of Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.)
Manchin does not need Schumer, but Schumer needs Manchin. That puts Manchin in a position of power to influence policy.
Manchin’s position also carries risk. On close and controversial votes, no Senator wants to be the lone individual who splits with their party. There is safety in numbers, even if it’s just two or three other members.
Still, he is in an increasingly significant position to do what he does best—make deals. For example, he was a key player in the bipartisan, bicameral discussions that restarted talks on the Covid-19 relief bill.
He thrives on building personal relationships that lead to partnerships. A “Coalition of the Willing”—moderate Democrats and Republicans—could break the typical partisan logjams. One can easily imagine fellow West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito—a moderate Republican—being part of that group.
It was not that many months ago that Manchin was struggling with his role in Washington. The extreme partisanship and glacial pace of Congress was anathema to Manchin and his short attention span.
His frustration was so great that he seriously entertained running for a third term as Governor before finally deciding to return to Washington.
His patience with the ways of Washington paid off, and now Joe Manchin finds himself right where he enjoys being and where he can make a difference—in the middle of the fray.