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Manchin is only half-right about the need for congressional shame

Sen. Joe Manchin believes the current Congress is a debacle, and every member should be "ashamed." The former point has merit, the latter is more complex.


It’s not exactly a secret that Capitol Hill has been difficult to watch over the last year and a half. The 117th Congress, covering President Joe Biden’s first two years in the White House, racked up some impressive accomplishments, but there are plenty of credible reasons the 118th Congress has been described as the worst Congress ever.

As he prepares to exit the institution, Sen. Joe Manchin shared a few thoughts the other day about the scope of the embarrassment. The Hill reported:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and former Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) lamented the state of Congress in a side-by-side interview Sunday, with Manchin saying Americans should be “ashamed” of the legislative body. “Every one of us should be ashamed of what we’re, what we’re living through now in the 118th Congress,” Manchin said in the CNN interview with Manu Raju.

There were basically two points to the West Virginian’s assessment: (1) This Congress is dreadful; and (2) every member of Congress should feel a sense of shame about conditions on Capitol Hill.

The former has merit; the latter isn’t quite so simple.

If the conservative Democrat wants to make the case that the current Congress is cover-your-eyes awful, he’ll get no argument from me. Resignations have reached a generational high. Legislative progress has slowed to a pace unseen in nearly a century. Lawmakers have struggled mightily to complete basic tasks. One House speaker has already been ousted — a development without precedent in American history — and another might yet follow.

Referring to the House, a recent Punchbowl News report concluded, “This is the most chaotic, inefficient and ineffective majority we’ve seen in decades covering Congress.”

Americans have seen a needlessly shambolic process to elect a House speaker, a wildly unnecessary impeachment inquiry against a sitting president, an equally unnecessary impeachment of a sitting cabinet secretary, the expulsion of a disgraced member, and several pointless censures.

But to argue that every single member of Congress “should be ashamed” of these developments is to paint with too broad a brush. Accountability is sensible, but blaming lawmakers who’ve acted responsibly and approached their duties honorably is a mistake. It gives voters the impression that both parties in both chambers are equally to blame for an ongoing fiasco.

Reality suggests otherwise.

There’s no great mystery as to how congressional conditions have reached this point. After the 2022 midterm elections, far-right Republicans took control of the levers of power in the House. They slowed legislative progress, launched absurd inquiries, abused their powers, made dangerous threats, targeted ostensible allies when they failed to toe a radical line, and rejected compromises.

Why should members who played no role in such tactics feel “ashamed”?