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Joe Manchin Drops More Hints About How He’d Reform the Filibuster

Manchin stands and speaks during a hearing
The King of the Senate, Joe Manchin. Jim Watson/Pool/Getty Images

West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, the lord high overseer and supreme chieftain of the United States Senate, has been dropping hints lately about how he’d potentially be willing to reform the filibuster, mostly under the guise of explaining to his constituents how he’s actually trying to protect it. Right now, Democrats control the Senate, but they’re stuck passing bills on party-line votes via the budget reconciliation process—therefore limiting what their legislation can do—because of the chamber’s resting assumption that any bill that doesn’t have the support of 60 senators will be blocked via filibuster. Manchin, a moderate in a deep-red state, has said he’s not in favor of scrapping the filibuster, which would allow Democrats to pursue a host of legislative ambitions like voting rights and immigration reform.

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On Sunday, however, Manchin suggested he’d be open to bringing back the talking filibuster, which would require lawmakers to actually get up and give speeches if they wanted to stop legislation. “If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk, I’m willing to look at any way we can. But I’m not willing to take away the involvement of the minority,” Manchin said on NBC’s Meet the Press. He repeated much the same on Fox News, where he explained that “it really should be painful and we’ve made it more comfortable over the years.”

Now, in an interview with Politico, Manchin appears to have gotten even more specific about the changes he’d be willing to entertain—and it bodes poorly for the GOP’s obstruction plans. Specifically, the piece says, Manchin “thinks either the majority needs to come up with 60 votes to overcome a filibuster or the minority to come up with 41 votes to sustain it.” It’s a short, passing paraphrase in an article that is ostensibly about how Democrats don’t have the votes to actually change the filibuster. But when considered in the context of Manchin’s comments over the weekend, it’s potentially a big deal. The senator has now said that on top of requiring the minority to actually talk during a filibuster, he’d be open to requiring that they keep 41 votes on the floor in order to maintain their blockade. No matter what, that would be a massive time suck for opposition lawmakers, which would make filibustering more logistically difficult. But once you’ve made the rule change, it also opens up the potential for old-timey hardball tactics like running the Senate 24/7 until the opposing side just drops.

Anyway, these are all just maybes and hints coming from a man whose colleagues genuinely seem to find him inscrutable. And the effectiveness of any proposed filibuster reform is going to depend heavily on the details. But mercifully, Manchin seems to be bending in the direction of reforming the Senate’s most frustrating convention—and, you know, actually doing some more legislating.

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