WASHINGTON – Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer from New York and Sen. Joe Manchin (the pivotal West Virginia centrist) have been a prominent odd couple at Capitol Hill for many years.
There are limits to friendship in a Senate with 50 seats for each party and Kamala Harris as Vice President.
As the Democratic leader, Mr. Schumer has the responsibility of keeping the caucus together despite the pressure from other members of the Democratic Party. He is trying to push the Biden agenda which includes trillions in infrastructure, education, and child-care spending. While Mr. Manchin was part a bipartisan group that developed a framework for funding roads, bridges, and broadband late Wednesday, he expressed concern about the possibility of other legislation being passed without GOP support.
One of the obstacles to the Democratic Party unity are Mr. Manchin. He is a rare Democrat from a State that went heavily in the two previous elections for President Donald Trump. His iconoclastic position on many Democratic priorities has drawn the ire more progressive colleagues in Congress.
When Mr. Schumer called for a vote on opening debate on the Democrats’ broad elections bill, the interplay between these two men was evident. Given that the bill required 60 votes, at least 10, from Republicans, to pass, and no Republican support, it was almost certain to fail. To show that Democrats are united behind the bill, Schumer decided to move forward anyway.
He wasn’t sure if he could count upon the support of Mr. Manchin who was the only Democratic holdout on this bill. Five hours before Tuesday’s vote, Mr. Manchin went into Mr. Schumer’s office to inform him in person that he had decided to vote yes.
Mr. Schumer then committed to Mr. Manchin’s changes as the first amendment that the Senate would consider, if the bill were to be considered. After Mr. Manchin voted Mr. Schumer gave a handshake and said, “Good job.”
Republicans blocked ‘s bill . Mr. Manchin’s amendment was also blocked. However, the deal between Schumer & Manchin preserved the fragile coalition Democrats had at least for now.
“We don’t always agree, but we treat one another with respect. And I’m always conscious that West Virginia isn’t New York.” Mr. Schumer said. “And this is what I would like to say: Our strength in the caucus -always has been and even more so with fifty votes–is union, but I think that every member of our caucus realizes that.”
Mr. Manchin indicated that Tuesday’s vote was not a mistake and that he felt that Mr. Schumer had put his feelings in danger by scheduling it before Mr. Manchin was available. “He has a very hard job. That’s what they all do. So I get that. “I made it very clear, I’m willing to continue with that.”
Mr. Manchin opposes other Democratic proposals to the new Congress. This includes a $15-anhour federal minimum wage, and a 28% corporate tax rate increase from 21%. He has also pledged not to repeal the filibuster. This rule requires 60 votes to pass most legislation in the Senate.
Many Democratic activists favor the elimination of the rule so they can pass legislation on voting and gun rights by simple majority. In fundraising emails and ads, they also target Mr. Manchin. According to a Democrat with knowledge of the matter, Mr. Schumer stepped up recently to counsel progressive groups to concentrate on substantive policy arguments rather than personal attacks on Mr. Manchin.
The high-profile opposition Mr. Manchin has to certain priorities of his party sometimes serves as a shield to other vulnerable Democratic colleagues, who may share his reluctance but aren’t as eager to promote their positions. According to FiveThirtyEight’s nonpartisan tracking website, Mr. Manchin voted in accordance with President Biden 100% of the times. While Mr. Trump had Mr. Manchin vote in his favor half the time, he voted for Democrats on the major votes. This included the Affordable Care Act, opposing tax cuts 2017 and both impeachment trial.
The current dynamic between Mr. Schumer, Mr. Manchin, is the latest in a long-standing friendship.
Jonathan Deem, who was a former aide, stated that when Mr. Manchin first arrived in Washington, D.C., Mr. Manchin was shocked to find out how few senators had ever socialized outside of work. Later, Mr. Manchin purchased the “Almost Heaven” houseboat and began inviting members from both the left and right to board. Deem says that one of the first guests was Mr. Schumer.
The New York Democrat kept coming – and sometimes suggested guests. The menu included either pizza from the local grocery store or pasta and salad taken from a local Italian restaurant. People who were familiar with the gatherings said they also enjoyed beer, wine and moonshine. Time in 2014 reported that the “Schumer” loves it, and even the atmosphere. “Schumer feels it’s his yacht.”
Mr. Manchin faced a tough reelection cycle in 2017. He invited Mr. Schumer to be the keynote speaker at the West Virginia Democratic Party’s annual West Virginia Democratic Party dinner. They shared their banter and bonded over the topic, according to Mike Plante (a West Virginia Democratic strategist and former Manchin campaign advisor). Republicans said the visit was proof Mr. Manchin was too close to the liberal wing.
According to Mr. Schumer, he told attendees how he brought all the Democratic caucus to Shepherdstown in W.Va in January 2017 at Mr. Manchin’s suggestion to regroup and hear voters’ concerns following Mr. Trump’s victory.
According to West Virginia MetroNews radio network, Schumer said “We’re brothers in the Foxhole together”. “Sometimes we hear alot from Bernie or Elizabeth, I elbow Joe so that he can speak up for the other side,” a reference toward progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D. Mass. Bernie Sanders (I.Vt.).
Mr. Schumer added Mr. Manchin to his leadership team when Democrats took control in the Senate earlier this year. Warren and Sanders–giving Mr. Manchin an opportunity to have a say in policy decisions and giving the Democratic leadership strong links with rural, white, and work-class voters who have deserted the party over the years.
“If Schumer, then I keep Manchin in my fold,” said Mr. Deem. “Or else, it’s possible to lose that section of the electorate.”
In 2018, Mr. Manchin (an ex-Gov. West Virginia) won re-election with just 4 points. Trump won the state in 2020 by 39 points, down slightly from 42 in 2016.
Mr. Manchin regularly calls on his party members to reconsider their plans to seek GOP support. Mr. Manchin has often been resisted by Mr. Schumer who has sometimes used subtle pressure to get his attention.
In May, Mr. Schumer was aware that Mr. Manchin was dissatisfied with the bill’s voting system, but he assured him and other members that he would schedule an election by the end June. This is according to people familiar the timeline. One week later, on June 6, Mr. Manchin made his opposition in a local paper.
On June 16, Schumer began a procedure in order to accelerate a vote. On the same date, Mr. Manchin provided a list that included provisions that he would approve and some that he opposed. This was a significant breakthrough for his Democratic counterparts, who had been trying to get clarity from him since months. The negotiations took over a week before Messrs. Schumer und Manchin were able to reach an agreement in the leader’s office on day of the election.
Claire McCaskill (D. Mo.) Former senator According to Claire McCaskill, former Sen. (D., Missouri), Mr. Schumer’s leadership style involves less arm twisting and relies more on the power of unanimity in Democratic caucus to force consensus. “If everybody is on one end of the room and there are only two on the other, that can apply tremendous pressure,” she stated.
Ms. McCaskill indicated that Schumer appreciates the importance centrist Democrats playing a role in majority-making and attempts to give them flexibility when he is able.
People who know Mr. Manchin say that this is the only approach that works because he doesn’t respond well to any heavy-handed tactics.
“People close to Joe politically say, ‘Don’t tell Joe Manchin something, tell Joe what you want, and let Joe figure out how it will be done,” said Mr. Plante.