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Manchin's political worldview was put to the test (and it lost)

The vote on the Jan. 6 commission wasn't just a disappointment for Joe Manchin, it was a vote that shattered his vision for governance.


As Senate Republicans prepared to kill the bipartisan plan for a Jan. 6 commission, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was seen on the chamber floor having a tense conversation with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It was obvious to those who saw the discussion that the conservative Democrat was not pleased.

That was understandable. This fight, more than any other in recent memory, put Manchin's entire political worldview to the test -- and it lost.

After the vote, the West Virginian expressed his disappointment to reporters.

"Mitch McConnell makes it extremely difficult," Manchin said. "The commission is something this country needs. There's no excuse. It's just pure raw politics. And that's just so, so disheartening. It really, really is disheartening. I never thought I'd see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. And I'm going to fight to save this country."

The senator never explicitly acknowledged the dynamic, but for Manchin, the debate over the commission was not simply a legislative fight; it was a case study for a style of governing.

Indeed, the pieces were in place for Manchin to prove that his approach worked. Most Democrats and Republicans agreed that there was an insurrectionist attack on our seat of government. The parties also agreed on the need for an examination. There were bipartisan negotiations, concessions from both sides, and an eventual compromise agreement.

If Manchin were literally writing a script as to how political disputes should be resolved, it would look exactly like this.

As recently as late last week, the senator assured reporters there was a "very, very good chance" the Senate would pass the bipartisan proposal, adding that he hoped there were at least "10 good, solid patriots" among Senate Republicans.

Manchin didn't just want to believe this, he needed to believe this. If Republicans rejected a bipartisan compromise, prioritizing politics and electoral strategies over country, then his entire vision of how Congress can operate would be shattered.

We don't need to change the Senate's filibuster rules, Manchin tells us, we simply need well-intentioned officials to sit down, talk, listen, compromise, and reach responsible agreements.

It's an idea with hypothetical appeal. But in practice, a clear majority of Senate Republicans just told the conservative Democrat that his model doesn't work. The parties reached a consensus, and GOP leaders decided they didn't much care.

The only responsible way forward is for Manchin to consider the implication of today's lesson. If 10 Senate Republicans won't accept a bipartisan plan for a Jan. 6 commission -- after they endorsed the idea and accepted Democratic concessions -- why in the world would anyone think GOP officials would work in good faith toward a sensible agreement on infrastructure? And voting rights? And immigration? And literally every other meaningful policy dispute under the sun?

Or put another way, now that McConnell and his Republican have discredited Manchin's preferred model, what is he prepared to replace it with?