Swamp 101: Joe Manchin asks billionaire donors to get Roy Blunt to do their bidding

Al Drago/Associated Press file photo

This is Swamp 101, but instructive all the same: An audio recording has surfaced of Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin asking billionaire donors to lean on Republican Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt to change his vote on the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection commission.

That’s important in itself, he said, but would also accomplish a very different goal, and one the donors on the call care about a lot: Their implied IOU of future opportunities for Blunt, Manchin suggested, could help neutralize the Democrats’ best argument for doing away with the filibuster. Since Republicans oppose anything and everything the Democrats want to do, Rs could preserve the filibuster by proving Ds wrong about that. Never cooperating on anything, Manchin told them, “just really emboldens the far left saying, ‘I told you, how’s that bipartisan working for you now, Joe?’ ’’

“Roy Blunt is a great, just a good friend of mine, a great guy. Roy is retiring,” Manchin said on the recorded call, according to The Intercept. “If some of you all who might be working with Roy in his next life could tell him, (voting for the commission would) be nice and it’d help our country. That would be very good to get him to change his vote.”

This assumes that Blunt will of course be lobbying, and could of course be swayed by his prospective clients. Which is not a terrible bet, given the number of former lawmakers who do and are.

It’s up to West Virginians to decide if Manchin should be pressuring rich people to pressure Blunt by suggesting that it would be good for his future earning power to vote a certain way.

But Manchin’s secret comment reveals something Missourians should know, too, which is this: Blunt’s hyperpartisan resistance to major Democratic initiatives could and should hasten the end of the Senate filibuster, the odd rule that these days requires 60 votes to turn on the lights in the chamber, or do anything else.

Filibuster not in framers’ original plan for Senate

Manchin does support the commission, but that isn’t why he wants Blunt to switch. Manchin needs Senate Republicans to vote for something Democrats want in order to save the filibuster, which doesn’t deserve to be saved.

In other words, he’s asking Blunt to do the right thing for not just a hidden reason, but to advance a wrong outcome, even if he doesn’t see it that way.

“I need to find three more Republican, good Republican senators that will vote for the commission,” Manchin said on the call. “So at least we can tamp down where people say, ‘Well, Republicans won’t even do the simple lift, common sense of basically voting to do a commission that was truly bipartisan.’“

The truth doesn’t need any “tamping down.”

And the filibuster doesn’t need saving: It was not envisioned by the framers of the Constitution, runs counter to the concept of majority rule that underpins our whole democracy, and was not part of how the original Senate worked.

As explained in Adam Jentleson’s excellent book “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy,” this is how we got here: “Motivated by their all-consuming desire to protect Jim Crow and building on the work of obstructionists who had come before them, southern senators of the early twentieth century honed a procedural tool to empower, for the first time in American history, a minority of senators to systematically block bills favored by the majority.”

Why? “They faced a Congress and a public that wanted to take at least rudimentary steps toward basic protections for Black Americans decades before the first post-Reconstruction civil rights bill finally passed in 1957.” Clearly, something had to be done. And still is being done.

If you doubt that, check out Blunt’s reaction to Manchin’s compromise proposal on voting rights legislation: “When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Sen. Manchin’s proposal, it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute.” So pop those corks and put on those party hats. The Thursday Fox News headline on that story was “Republicans reject Stacey Abrams-endorsed elections bill proposal from Manchin: ‘Totally inappropriate.’”

Abrams, like Manchin, is a centrist. Remember when she was criticized by progressives in her party for lobbying to become Joe Biden’s running mate? So let’s also put on our thinking caps: Wonder what it can be about her that made Blunt and other Republicans so happy to tag the Manchin proposal as “the Stacey Abrams substitute?”

Blunt opposed Biden COVID relief, voting rights reform

If Manchin’s real goal is more bipartisan cooperation, he should support filibuster reform, since a return to majority rule would force far more compromise. But that’s not the goal of the billionaires on the call, who benefit from keeping the Senate exactly as it is. Because not only is greed good, but so is gridlock.

Great friend of Manchin’s that Blunt is, there’s no recent evidence that he is at all interested in working across the aisle between now and his retirement after next year’s election.

This year, Blunt fought President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill that put $1,400 in the pockets of most Americans — and helped protect the economy.

Blunt has resisted the massive infrastructure proposal from the Biden White House, and his name is not on the list of those supporting a bipartisan infrastructure compromise.

Nowhere is the senator’s resistance to bipartisanship more obvious than in his repeated bitter attacks on voting rights legislation. A “partisan power grab,” he says, that takes election rules away from the states and gives it to the federal government.

Nonsense. Women, and 18-year-olds, and Black and minority voters are only able to cast ballots because the national Constitution guarantees their votes. Would Blunt claim states should be able to deny those rights? Of course not.

Again, it’s Blunt’s behavior this year, and that of his colleagues, that makes either ending or mending the filibuster so necessary. And Manchin is right about one thing: If the filibuster falls, we’ll have Blunt and others like him to thank.