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Manchin's blow to Biden gives Republicans a boost for 2022

In these hyperpartisan times, it sure looks like Joe Manchin is doing what he can to help Republicans out.
Image: Joe Manchin speaking on the phone facing left.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been a public official since 1982, when he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates. Tom Williams / AP; MSNBC

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is doing more to help Republicans win back control of Congress in 2022 than, well, the Republicans are doing.

The latest example of this came Sunday when Manchin appeared on — of all places — Fox News to declare that he’s a “no” on President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill. Many are understandably analyzing Manchin’s purported reasons for stabbing Biden and the Democrats in the back. But Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., best summed it up while on Ali Velshi’s MSNBC show Sunday morning when she bluntly stated, “The excuses he just made are complete bulls---.”

Experts have debunked Manchin’s claims that the bill will trigger excessive inflation.

She’s right. Experts have debunked Manchin’s claims that the bill will trigger excessive inflation. And probably the most laughable excuse the senator gave for not supporting the bill was, “If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.” Why wouldn’t the people of West Virginia understand — or support — a proposal to help lower prescription drug prices, expand Medicare to help seniors, fund pre-K, extend the child tax credit to help families and more? In a state like West Virginia that has the sixth-highest poverty rate in the country, this type of legislation could be life changing.

Perhaps Manchin’s opposition to the bill that would also transformatively address climate change is actually fueled by the fact he has received during this election cycle the largest amount of political donations from the oil and gas industry — not to mention his personal profits from the coal industry.

While the real reason for Manchin’s “no” is up for debate, one thing is certain: There’s no way that the veteran politician does not know that by killing this bill, he is helping the GOP win back in 2022 the House and possibly even the Senate.

Manchin was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates back in 1982, and he has been an elected official ever since, climbing the ladder to serve as the West Virginia secretary of state, then elected as governor in 2004 and finally to the U.S. Senate in 2010. No one has to explain to him the nuances of electoral politics; he could probably write a treatise on it himself while sitting on his yacht, after driving his Maserati to said yacht.

Manchin’s defacto boost to the Republican Party goes beyond Build Back Better. He knows full well that the midterm election is traditionally a referendum on how the president is doing. That also means that if Biden doesn’t have some big successes between now and Election Day 2022, Democrats will most likely lose control of the House (which they hold by fewer than 10 seats) and possibly the Senate as well (which is currently locked at 50-50).

Right now, Biden’s average approval rating is in the area of 44 percent, up from a low of 41 percent in late November. Recent history tells us that if Biden goes into the November election with a 44 percent approval rating, it won’t be pretty for Democrats. In fact, President Barack Obama was carrying a 44 percent approval rating heading into his first midterm in 2010, when Democrats lost a whopping 63 House seats and six Senate seats.

Similarly in the 2018 midterm, President Donald Trump had about a 40 percent approval rating. The result was the GOP lost 41 house seats and Democrats took control. The only exceptions in the modern era when a president’s party didn’t lose seats in a midterm election were when the president had an over 60 percent approval rating, with George W. Bush in 2002 (soon after 9/11) and Bill Clinton in 1998.

In these hyperpartisan times, a president hitting an approval rating of over 60 percent is unlikely, but Biden can still increase his approval rating and build enthusiasm for Democratic congressional candidates heading into the midterm by delivering for the American people. Build Back Better is a big way to do just that.

It’s impossible to tell what Manchin’s end goal is in all of this, but he surely knows that in midterm elections, turnout is everything.

But this bill is not the only place Manchin is helping Republicans win in 2022. By not agreeing to reform the filibuster to enact voting rights protection, he has also undermined the Democrats’ prospects of holding the House and Senate in 2022 for two reasons.

First, the GOP has already enacted — per the Brennan Center’s latest updates published this week — 34 laws in 19 states since January to make it harder to vote. Essentially the GOP has put measures in place that help the party win elections in states it controls. And as the Brennan Center's report indicates, the GOP is just getting warmed up, with nearly 100 bills pending in 2022 that would restrict voting, empower sham partisan “audits” and potentially nullify votes.

Second, by not passing federal voting rights legislation, there’s the intangible but very real zapping of enthusiasm in the Democratic base because of the sense that Democratic leaders aren’t exhibiting the “fierce urgency of now,” as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, to address this issue. This is a sentiment I increasingly hear from callers to my SiriusXM radio show.

Even without the passage of Build Back Better and voting rights legislation, Democrats aren’t being made into lambs led to the slaughter in 2022; other issues could emerge between now and November that dominate the midterm. After all, in December 2019, as we were headed into the 2020 presidential election year, we had not even heard of the words “Covid-19,” but that election ended up being all about it.

It’s impossible to tell what Manchin’s end goal is in all of this, but he surely knows that in midterm elections, turnout is everything. No one has to tell Manchin that by blocking these two key pieces of legislation it will undoubtedly depress Democratic turnout — as well as give independent voters less of a reason to vote for Democratic congressional candidates in 2022. With Democrats like Manchin, who needs Republicans?