Joe Manchin, the conservative Democratic West Virginia senator whose defiance over the filibuster rule threatens to stall Joe Biden’s domestic legislative agenda, found himself under pressure from both wings of his party on Sunday.
Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, adopted a conciliatory approach on CNN’s State of the Union show, offering a novel interpretation of Manchin’s assertion a week earlier that he would refuse to support Biden’s flagship For the People voting rights act, or vote to end the filibuster that would allow it to pass.
“I don’t give up on Joe Manchin. I think he left the door open, I think it’s ajar [and] I’m not giving up,” she said, offering an olive branch following harsh criticism from other Democrats.
“He has certain concerns about the legislation that we may be able to come to terms on. We have to make this fight for our democracy. It isn’t about Democrats or Republicans, it’s not about partisanship, it’s about patriotism so we must pass it.”
Later in the same show, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive congresswoman from New York, assailed Manchin for clinging to what she said he saw as “the romanticism of bipartisanship” and an era of Republicanism “that simply does not exist any more”.
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“We have the influence of big money [donors] that impacts both parties in Congress and I believe that that old way of politics has absolutely an influence in Joe Manchin’s thinking, and the way he navigates the body,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“You have the Koch brothers and associated organizations really doing victory laps about Joe Manchin’s opposition to [ending the] the filibuster.”
The contrasting approaches to the Manchin problem underscore the growing rift in the Democratic party. It controls the White House and House of Representatives but appears increasingly unable to progress key elements of Biden’s agenda, including voting rights, a $1.7tn infrastructure plan, racial justice efforts and gun reforms, through the Senate.
There, seats are divided 50-50 and the Democrats have a tie-breaking vote in the vice-president, Kamala Harris, but the filibuster rule means the minority party can block much legislation that does not have the support of at least 60 members.
Colleagues have urged Manchin to support efforts to end or restructure the Senate filibuster, but he is not in favor.
Ocasio-Cortez said Democrats now faced “a fork in the road”.
“Do we settle for much less and an infrastructure package that has been largely designed by Republicans in order to get 60 votes, or can we really transform this country, create millions of union jobs, revamp our power grid, get bridges fixed and schools rebuilt with 51 or 50 Democratic votes?” she said.