Manchin has told his colleagues that his phone line has been lit with prominent names outside the Senate for the past few days. According to a person familiar with the talks, he has heard from former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and talk show legend Oprah Winfrey, as well as former Manchin employees and former Senator Robert Byrd (DW.Va.). Manchin’s office declined to comment on these calls.
But perhaps the most fruitful discussions are taking place behind closed doors, among the Senators themselves. Kaine compared the effort to his 27-hour drive to Washington earlier this week after a blizzard devastated I-95: “Slow progress toward a goal, like my commuting. ”
It is crystal clear to some that he does not want to change the 60-vote threshold required to pass most bills through a unilateral vote, which is currently the only way to stamp out the filibuster. At the same time, he has a hard time saying no to his buddies.
And that explains Manchin’s relatively open rhetoric of the last few days about whether there are any changes to the Filibuster that could improve the work of the Senate. He made modest adjustments that many Democrats now see as the slightest glimmer of hope that they could eventually be successful. But they’re not there yet – not even close.
“I can’t say we have a solution or a solution or a decision. But we keep talking. That’s the good news, “said King.
The talks between the four centrists represent the best chance the Democrats have to influence Manchin in the coming days, as Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer seeks a vote on changes to Senate rules by Jan. 17. Schumer plays the outsiders hard and puts repeated pressure on Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) To support a rule change that would allow a simple majority to pass the electoral reform.
Even then, the effort is a long way off at best. At this point in time, it would be one of the greatest reversals in modern political history if Manchin and Sinema advocate a weaker filibuster over the unilateral “nuclear option”.
Talks with Sinema are taking place separately, and she has made it very clear that she does not want to interfere with the requirement for a super majority. Still, many Democrats think that if Manchin approves something, the rest of the group will follow.
At the same time, Manchin and Sinema are part of a bipartisan group that has been meeting since this week to discuss the revision of the electoral census law and other more modest electoral reforms. If, as expected, Manchin and Sinema reject a major rule change this month to pass comprehensive electoral reform, it could leave these discussions as the best hope for any action on that front.
Nonetheless, people like Tester, whose home state is almost as conservative as Manchin’s, reach out to Manchin directly to discuss a filibuster move. Tester, Kaine, and King all signed up Letter from 2017, in which it was about “preserving existing rules” of the Senate, but everyone says the January 6 uprising and other events changed their minds.
“Joe is a complex guy. We’re all complex people, ”said Tester. “All three of us were in a position where we didn’t want to change the filibuster. And I think if it wasn’t weapons I wouldn’t talk about it now. ”
The talk of the filibuster is publicly marketed specifically to Manchin. Democrats often refer to Byrd, now seated in Manchin, and his eventual support for changes to Senate rules over the course of his career. And instead of talking about killing or gutting the filibuster, the Democrats are now portraying their urge as one to “revive” the Senate.
Manchin said several times this week that he does not support the Democrats in changing the rules on their own and would rather work on all the changes down the aisle, as he hopes for electoral reform. In an interview, Manchin said his Democratic friends would not sell him hard.
“It’s very informative. Gosh, we have a lot of historical background and learned how we became what we are as bodies today. How we evolved and who we are and how we got here and what changes have been made over time, ”said Manchin. “They are all my friends … they know where I am.”
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the Democrats is that Manchin hasn’t said no to hearing them. It’s all part of Manchin’s long arc on electoral reform: he rejected the Democrats’ first version last year, then worked with colleagues to write a version he could endorse. He then spent months recruiting Republicans to sign electoral reform and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, with only the endorsement of GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Despite this wall of the GOP opposition, Manchin has fundamentally ruled out a change in party rules and has described this week as a “heavy boost”. He also refuses to make an exception to the filibuster specifically for elections and voting, saying this week, “Every time there’s a split, you eat the whole turkey.” Manchin voted against the Senate’s unilateral rule changes with both a Democratic and Republican majority.
He continues to defend the super-majority requirement and questions anything that could dilute it. Reforms he seeks include removing a filibuster vote even from debating laws and changing the 60-vote threshold to three-fifths, which would force more members of the minority to stay in Washington. However, these would not create a clear path for electoral reform to pass the Senate.
But for the trio of Senate optimists, Manchin’s candor alone, a year after he vowed never to change the filibuster, is something of a victory.
“He understands that there is an urgent need to exercise voting rights very soon. So the question is, how do we get there? ”Kaine said. “The question is, what is the preferred option? And we’re just not there. ”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.