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Analysis: Why Washington's political theater goes on and on

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But not all Democrats! That’s why the party’s top priorities of creating a national voting standard to undo restrictive election bills in key states and a massive infrastructure bill are within sight, but locked away.
Nobody is happy. Nobody is budging. We’re a long way off from the kind of cross-party negotiation that’s primed to yield a funky left-right-center coalition in Israel, where the system of government ultimately forces parties to work together. The system here gives us two parties, and they no longer work together.
The math is the math. In the evenly split Senate — there are 48 Democrats, two independents who act like Democrats, and 50 Republicans — there are not the votes to change anything.
President Joe Biden, maybe a little exasperated, and maybe exerting a little pressure, called out his own party’s senators this week.
Frustrations. “I hear all the folks on TV saying, why didn’t Biden get this done,” Biden said Tuesday in Tulsa, before splitting for the beach to celebrate his wife’s 70th birthday. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of, effectively, four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.”
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He didn’t name them, but the filibuster-friendly Democrats he was talking about are Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. (Also, fact checking Biden here: Manchin and Sinema only vote against their party about a third of the time, according to one estimate, and almost always together on big bills, where their votes are needed).
But the vote to change Senate rules — commonly referred to as the “nuclear option” — would completely change the ways Senate business is conducted forever.
The theater of it all. Until Democrats can bring Sinema and Manchin in line, they don’t have the votes to change the rules and remake the Senate. And Republicans, united as ever, can block at will. What you’re seeing right now is what I’d view as a political theater. Democrats have to do everything they can to convince two of their own that bipartisanship can’t work. This could get ugly.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny has covered the White House, elections and Capitol Hill and will tell you that the same arguments that win politicians an election in one state will lose them another.
If people like Manchin, a Democrat representing a deep red state, and Sinema, who has reinvented herself into a John McCain-style maverick, are to follow the party over the cliff of forever clipping minority rights, it has to be, or at least seem to be, the last possible option. He disagrees that this is all just for show.
ZELENY: Finding bipartisan consensus is far more than simply an act of political theater. It’s a critical step in winning over moderate Democrats like Manchin, Sinema and a handful of other senators who are less outspoken. If Biden didn’t make any serious concessions and followed the advice of some progressive Democrats and stopped his serious negotiations with Republicans, he could lose the support from Manchin & Co.
The $1 trillion infrastructure plan is about more than rebuilding the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges. It’s also a test for whether Washington can work in the Biden era.
The bottom line: The President is making it harder for Republicans to walk away from the deal. But if they do, it paves a far easier road to a Democrats-only bill.
Sinema and Manchin, for now, aren’t tipping their hands. Even more aggravating to Democrats is the odd logic Sinema applied to her opposition to changing Senate rules.
“It is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation,” she said of the filibuster. “Rather than allowing our country to ricochet wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies, the idea of the filibuster was created by those who came before to create comity and to encourage bipartisanship and work together.”
The irony of protecting democracy by giving veto power to the minority. The comments make sense from the perspective that Sinema, who has reinvented herself over the course of years from antiwar activist to moderate actively cloning the maverick party-bucking tendencies of McCain, whose Senate seat she now holds.
She prizes bipartisanship and when she talked about protecting democracy, she was standing next to Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn. Bipartisanship sounds good!
The problem, as most Democrats will tell you, is that Republicans have made their singular cause to kill any and all legislation that moves through the Senate. And they have the minority of votes they need to do it.
In that regard, Sinema’s effort to protect democracy, which is generally defined as a majority of people choosing the direction for the country, is to give an intransigent minority veto power.
Lucy with the football. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret that his number one priority is to defeat any legislative accomplishments for Biden so that he can take back the Senate in 2022 and put even more roadblocks in Biden’s way.
That’s what he did in 2008, when Republicans spent a year putting on a show of being open to a bipartisan health reform act only to turn away. This time, Republicans are putting on a show of being open to a bipartisan infrastructure bill, although their first offer was a major low ball to Biden’s massive opening bid.
Biden, meanwhile, continues to talk to Republicans, like West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, and signaled a willingness to scale back his proposal to make it bipartisan. It’ll take ten Republicans to break a Senate filibuster. As usual, ten Republicans siding with Democrats seems, for now, laughable.
Possible outcomes: If past is prologue, here’s one possible scenario: Biden offers many concessions to Republicans.
Republicans don’t ultimately buy in. Democrats pass the whittled down bill without any help and Republicans, after shrinking it, attack it as socialism.
They’re not likely to even pretend to consider a bipartisan bill to protect voters from new restrictive voting laws Republicans are pushing in key states (Ahem, Sen. Sinema, that’s not exactly protecting democracy, either).
Why are these people Democrats? Democrats should be thankful they are. Democrats have their bare majority only because Manchin and Sinema are Democratic senators. Stop and consider for a moment how remarkable it is that Manchin is able to represent West Virginia, a state Trump won with more than 68% of the vote.
The 2018 midterm election, when both Manchin and Sinema won their most recent bid for office, was a big year for Democrats, who seized control of the House of Representatives.
But Manchin and Sinema only narrowly won — Manchin by fewer than 20,000 votes and Sinema by fewer than 60,000. Democrats owe their majority to 80,000 votes in those two states. Biden wouldn’t even be thinking about a massive infrastructure bill if they’d lost.
You can’t win in Washington with one team. Biden and Trump each won 25 states. Neither party in this climate could have a majority if they didn’t have lawmakers representing the other side’s states.
Voters penalize one-party action. The two most recent presidents — Barack Obama and Donald Trump — both pushed through big legislative accomplishments without help from the other party. Obama had the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform and a stimulus to pull the US out of the Great Recession. Then he lost the House in 2010, which robbed the next six years of his presidency of any large legislative achievements. Trump pushed through his tax cuts bill. Then he lost the House and got impeached. In this regard, the change in power every two years that Sinema warns about is here to stay.
Biden is working with much smaller majorities in the House and Senate than either Trump or Obama, which is why Democrats are so focused on getting things done. That and they are legitimately freaking out that the more restrictive voting rules are a bigger assault on democracy than Sinema’s concern of ending the filibuster.
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