The Slatest

Was Joe Manchin Booed in a Jokey Way, or for Real?

Introducing “Sinemanchin Watch,” a recurring feature on everyone’s favorite Democratic centrists.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin smiling surrounded by smaller cut outs of disappointed and angry senators.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Alex Wong/Getty Images, Greg Nash/Pool/AFP via Getty Images, Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images, and Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

This is the first edition of Sinemanchin Watch, a recurring feature in which we will track the most recent developments in the lives of Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, who by nature of their proudly centrist politics in a 50–50 Senate get to decide the future of the planet and everything living on it. Good work if you can get it!

What Joe’s Been Up To

In another life, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is the guy who stands under the National Debt Clock in New York City and points at it all day, shouting “THE DEBT, THE DEBT!” while all the people walking by wonder why this man is yelling and only wearing one shoe. In this life, he is that same person, but he is wearing two shoes, lives in a houseboat on the Potomac River, and has an aide text him national debt updates each day. Also, in this life, all federal policy runs through him.

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This week, that federal policy comes in the form of a strange “two-track” process Democrats have relied on to pass their agenda—first, pass “hard” infrastructure on a bipartisan basis, then pass “soft” infrastructure and other partisan Democratic priorities through reconciliation. And this process is a direct outgrowth of moderates like Manchin and his co-centrist-in-chief, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s desire to play patty cake with Republicans for the sake of playing patty cake with Republicans. Would it be easier to just throw it all into one bill? Yes, “one” is a less complex number than “two.” But Manchin and Sinema, who are steadfast against eliminating the filibuster, want to show that bipartisanship can work.

The plan is, for now, on track. The bipartisan deal is being processed through the Senate as we write, and both Manchin and Sinema have agreed to move ahead with the budget resolution that sets up the reconciliation process.

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What Manchin and Sinema are not on board with, however, is spending $3.5 trillion in the eventual reconciliation bill, as the rest of the Democratic caucus is theoretically OK with. It is in this context, then, that our West Viriginia Debt Man was caught up in the Boo Heard ‘Round the World. Or at least heard by Politico’s morning newsletter, Playbook.

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“At a caucus luncheon for Senate Dems on Tuesday, Sen. JOE MANCHIN”—Playbook loves boldfaced names—“was booed for mentioning the deficit while speaking to his colleagues, sources tell Playbook.”

“One source described the West Virginian as ‘jokingly booed’ by the other senators, but another source in the room did not see it that way.”

First things first: It’s a tremendous shift within the Senate Democratic caucus that someone is straight-up booed when they mention the deficit. Ten years ago, potentially half of the caucus would have this insane website as their desktop homepage. Now Democratic senators are at risk of getting a swirly if they dare bring it up.

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Who booed dear JOE, though? And was it a “joking boo,” or a traditional boo?

Joe Manchin’s office did not respond to a request for clarification about the nature of the boo. Perhaps we will find out this fall, when Manchin surprise-kills the reconciliation bill on the Senate floor and announces to the chamber, “And THAT is why you do not boo Joe Manchin.”

What Kyrsten’s Been Up To

Despite the very hilarious joke above, Joe Manchin doesn’t seem to actively enjoy the process of pissing off progressives for its own sake; it’s just the natural byproduct of everything he does. Kyrsten Sinema, however, does seem to drink progressive tears for breakfast.

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In announcing that she would vote to advance the budget resolution next week, Sinema drew a line: “I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”

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This drew the ire of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for one.

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There is no indication that the bipartisan negotiators in the Senate had a rule excluding members of color from their group. But the Senate is an extremely white place, especially among its moderate members. Sinema presumably loved being called quasi-racist by AOC, anyway, in that she craves the adoration of Republican senators the way other senators crave getting a highway rest area named after themselves. Mitch McConnell has identified this need in his file cabinet of psychological profiles, and encouraged his colleagues to feed it.

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This week, Sinema will watch as the bipartisan infrastructure deal she reached moves its way through the Senate, and then it will be time to party. Sinema, as Politico also reported, told Majority Leader Chuck Schumer—who had threatened to curtail August recess to get all of this work done—that she is going on vacation when she’s going on vacation, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

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“She had prior vacation plans,” Politico reported, “and wasn’t about to let the infrastructure or reconciliation bills get in the way.”

It’s good to be a pivotal vote.

Who’s This Week’s Top Centrist?

This week was a clean win for Sinema. Not a single Republican senator wrote an editorial ode to Manchin, as Sen. Thom Tillis did for Sinema. Did Joe Manchin hug any chairmen of the House Freedom Caucus this week? These are nice little flourishes from Sinema that suggest she’s upping her game.

Got any hot tips on our twin rulers of the universe? Email jim.newell@slate.com.

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