So here we are at this moment of a new presidential Administration. We have a 70-ish year old white guy running the country, with all that entails. He’s been around a while, but we still can be surprised by him.
Close behind is a woman whose name begins with K, and whose name is constantly mispronounced. She has her own sense of style, is outspoken and has a way of attracting attention. Is she going places? Who knows?
The bottom-line question: How will the country fare under these two?
Time out: It has come to my attention that some of you may think I’m referring to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Not so. I’m thinking of another septuagenarian named Joe — Sen. Joe Manchin (M-WV) and another K — Kyrsten (frequently called Kristen) Sinema (FO-AZ). With the Senate balancing on the fulcrum of a pin, these two have an outsize sphere of influence.
To gain a tie vote in the Senate, assuming no Republicans will vote for anything that would given Biden a win, all 50 Democrats have to be on board. Actually to pass something controversial that Republicans will all oppose, and thus filibuster, needs all 50 Dems plus 10 Republicans.
Let’s start with Special K. We know she’s special because she wants us to know it. In her last notable public appearance, she was wearing a ring that said, “Fuck Off.” Very Senatorial, we know, particularly when paired with a bright pink newsboy cap.
Before that, she voted against raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in another way guaranteed to draw attention. Wearing a schoolgirl outfit of sweater and knee socks, she pranced into the Senate, clapped Republican leader Mitch McConnell on the back, curtsied in front of the Senate clerk and signaled a thumbs down. In a true Marie Antoinette moment, Sinema even brought a chocolate cake for the staff that day. Nice follow-up: the company that makes the ring is donating proceeds from the sale to groups fighting for $15.
At the time, her spokesperson took umbrage at comments regarding the Senator’s gestures and wardrobe by saying, “Commentary about a female senator’s body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet.” And yet, it’s hard to imagine someone who wears a purple wig into the Senate chamber while escorting her newly elected colleague to his swearing-in that she doesn’t want attention, regardless of her reason for doing so — ostensibly in solidarity with those who couldn’t get to the salon during the pandemic.
Sinema said she didn’t like that the minimum-wage measure was included in a larger bill, part of her campaign to uphold the grand traditions of the Senate, including the filibuster. That’s the other reason she draws attention.
Joe Manchin is a party of one, the Manchin party. At this point, he might be the second most powerful person on the planet, after Vladimir Putin. He can sit back in his chair and with a flip of the wrist, decide the fate of a person or a policy.
The ostensible president, Joe Biden, wanted to nominate Elizabeth Klein as deputy secretary of the Interior Department. Manchin thought Klein wasn’t sufficiently friendly to fossil fuels, so he sat back and said, “No,” and so she Klein was gone, regardless of the plain fact that Biden, not Klein and not Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, set the policy.
It seems as if every other story from Washington is about what Machin wants, or doesn’t want. Does the District of Columbia want to become a state? Other states, including West Virginia, were voted in by acts of Congress. Machin says D.C. needs a Constitutional amendment.
Biden wants a go-big American Jobs Plan to help individuals and families and to build roads, bridges, and the like. Even if his home state could benefit from such a bill, Manchin says it’s too expensive. Biden wants to raise corporate income tax rates from 21 percent to 28 percent, still lower than the 35 percent when Trump took office. Manchin wants to split the difference and go no higher than a seemingly arbitrary 25 percent.
Even as Republicans across the country pass measures to step up voter suppression, most recently in Florida, Manchin won’t vote in favor of a measure that already passed the House because he wants a bipartisan bill. Even in Manchin World, that’s a stretch to believe any Senate Republicans would vote to negate what their state brethren are doing, but nonetheless, there he is, allowing millions of people to be disenfranchised.
This ungodly insult to democracy demonstrates a reason that Sinema and Manchin take the contrary stands they do. Who would want to give up being the center of attention, the vote that makes the difference? If Manchin and Sinema care more about themselves than their constituents, why would they vote to do away with the filibuster and deprive themselves of power? There’s no rational reason, other than that doing so would help the country and millions of people, the motivation most Democrats have. Neither is up for re-election until 2024 anyway.
There will an election in 2022, and there could be three outcomes: 1) Things remain basically the same, and Manchin and Sinema keep their status. 2) Democrats campaign on the Biden record and pick up a couple of seats, in which case Manchin and Sinema become irrelevant. 3) Republicans take the Senate, in which case Manchin and Sinema are no longer simply irrelevant; they are responsible for what happens next because they didn’t enable a higher minimum wage, voter protection and the rest when they had the chance.