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With open Supreme Court seat, Democrats turn eyes to Manchin, Sinema

·Senior Writer
·3 min read
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As Senate Democrats prepare to confirm the White House’s nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, all eyes have again turned to Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Manchin and Sinema have carved out a niche as the two biggest Democratic impediments to President Biden’s legislative agenda in Congress, both by voting against changes to the filibuster that would have allowed voting rights legislation to pass and by dragging out negotiations on the stalled Build Back Better domestic agenda.

Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

In turn, they’ve become villains to many within their own party, with key donors cutting off funding to Sinema. The Arizona Democratic Party also recently censured her, setting up a likely primary challenge when her seat is up in 2024.

Manchin has had protesters visit his houseboat and has repeatedly had fiery exchanges with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., but his position in a state won by former President Donald Trump by 40 points limits potential electoral repercussions from the left.

One area where the two centrists haven’t bucked the White House is in confirming judicial nominees. So far, both have voted for all of the administration’s nominees for lower courts, including Ketanji Brown Jackson, the 51-year-old jurist seen as a leading candidate to replace Breyer. Jackson was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last summer.

Sinema has not released a statement on Breyer, but Manchin issued one Wednesday thanking the stalwart liberal justice for his service and wishing him a happy retirement.

“I take my Constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on a nominee to the Supreme Court very seriously,” Manchin said. “I look forward to meeting with and evaluating the qualifications of President Biden’s nominee to fill this Supreme Court vacancy.”

Manchin voted to confirm two of Trump’s picks for the high court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, but voted against confirming Justice Amy Coney Barrett, saying that the process was too rushed in the weeks before the 2020 election. Sinema was not in office for the first two confirmations but also voted no on Barrett. One potential sticking point is reproductive rights: Biden’s pick will likely be liberal on the issue, while Manchin is opposed to expanding abortion access.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, former President George W. Bush and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
From left, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, former President George W. Bush and Justice Amy Coney Barrett at President Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021. (Susan Walsh/AP)

On the other side of the aisle, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina all voted to confirm Jackson last summer.

Collins also voted to confirm both of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. Murkowski, meanwhile, is a moderate Republican up for reelection this year, but a new voting system in Alaska could make it more politically palatable for her to vote for Biden’s Supreme Court nominee despite facing a primary challenge from the right.

Graham is less likely to vote for the administration’s pick to replace Breyer. In a series of tweets complimenting Breyer and thanking him for his service, Graham noted, “As to his replacement: If all Democrats hang together — which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support.”

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would move with “deliberate speed” in working to get Biden’s nominee confirmed. The most recent Supreme Court confirmation occurred in a little over a month: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Sept. 18, 2020, and Barrett was confirmed to replace her on Oct. 26.

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