Average Joe: How Manchin could be just days away from losing his Senate power
C entrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) could see their outsize influence over the party wither away after two years of claiming make-it-or-break-it status over the Democrats’ agenda.
Over the last two years, both Manchin and Sinema have acted as gatekeepers of sorts within their own party, often using their votes to negotiate and boost their own priorities in exchange for support on a Democratic bill . Due to the 50-50 split in the Senate, the Democrats couldn’t afford to lose either one of their votes to advance legislation — resulting in drawn-out negotiations or compromises in order to push bills across the finish line.
But with the Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia giving the Democrats a chance to secure a 51-49 majority in the upper chamber, the pair’s control over the party may be coming to an end.
If the Democrats can manage to gain a two-seat majority, along with Vice President Kamala Harris ’s tiebreaking vote, the party would no longer need to rely on courting either Manchin or Sinema for their bills to succeed.
Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, told Newsweek that "I don’t expect Manchin or Sinema to have much influence to be quite honest. To the degree that they do have influence, it’ll be much more in the vein of the infrastructure bill-type influence."
Manchin has long acted as a thorn in the Democrats’ side over the last two years, often requiring lawmakers to make significant changes to their proposals or to drop provisions altogether in order to get the West Virginia Democrat on board. One recent example is the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which narrowly passed the Senate 51-50 with Harris’s vote.
Democrats were able to secure Manchin’s support after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cut a deal to include an energy permitting bill, one of Manchin’s top legislative priorities, to the annual government funding bill in exchange for his support of the Inflation Reduction Act. Manchin later withdrew the proposal from the funding bill due to a lack of support.
Sinema has also posed challenges to her own party, often using her position as a centrist to elevate herself as a key negotiator between Republicans and Democrats when it came to drafting legislation. In that position, Sinema would often pull legislation as far to the right as necessary to get Republicans in both the Senate and the House on board.
However, a 51-49 Senate in favor of Democrats would partially strip Sinema of that power, as any legislation that makes its way to the upper chamber will already have been approved by the GOP-led House after Republicans take control of the lower chamber in January.
For the two to remain powerful, they would both need to break from their party on the same piece of legislation in order to sink it — and that, in and of itself, is fairly unlikely. The two rarely find themselves voting as a bloc, and the two senators have different priorities and agendas.
Despite being the two of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, they vote with President Joe Biden and the rest of the party most of the time. Manchin sides with Biden’s policies roughly 89% of the time while Sinema does so 95% of the time , according to a political analysis from FiveThirtyEight.
“They’re not going to be able to kill Democratic initiatives like they did,” Huder said . “They’re not going to be able to do any of the stuff that really gave them a lot of veto power. They can be a positive influence in the sense that they can negotiate with Republicans, but that’s really the limit of what they can do.”