In normal times, incumbent senators could take the support of their party leadership for granted, especially those who bucked the odds to get elected in a region that generally favors the opposition party. Yet it seems today’s Democratic Party is no longer as democratic as its moniker insists. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are facing numerous calls for primary challenges, and even the party’s head honchos are casting their eyes for potential fresh blood.
When Manchin and Sinema refused to go along with President Biden’s epic spending plan for Build Back Better, they drew targets on their backs. Voting their conscience rather than party-line may end up costing both senators their seats when the 2024 primary dust settles. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) refused to confirm that the party would offer support, responding when asked:
“I am focused on 2022, getting things done, and winning the election on 2022. I’m not at all focused on 2024 right now, and neither should anyone else be. That’s just how you lose in 2022.”
It was a consummate political sidestep that served two purposes. First, it put the wayward senators on notice that their continued hopes of re-election will remain off the DNC radar unless something changes. And second, that Schumer himself is wary of challenges to his own position and willing to playball to keep it.
Threats to the King?
As a New York Democrat, Schumer is virtually guaranteed to retain his Senate seat in the 2022 congressional elections – assuming he wins the primary. With the Democratic Party demanding the equivalent of an ideological purity test from its members in supporting every action of President Biden, if Schumer were to back his recalcitrant colleagues, he could expose himself to internal challenges.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has hinted at a Senate run herself and has openly spoken about supporting other candidates to take on Manchin and Sinema. While it is highly unlikely that she would challenge Schumer at this time, her backing for another candidate would almost certainly weaken the Majority Leader’s position.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), while steadfastly refusing to become a Democrat, has said that he is open to primary challenges against Manchin and Sinema. Sanders’s aide and former Democrat Leadership aide, Faiz Shakir, highlighted the root cause of the problem. He said:
“There’s an ongoing battle for the soul of [the] Democratic Party, the future of it, whether we are a corporate-driven party or a party of the people, and Joe Manchin and Sinema represent the leading faction of the push to be friendly to corporate power.”
He continued, saying that Manchin and Sinema “are the symbol of that fight because they have so brazenly leaned into corporate donations and the willingness to fight Biden’s agenda…They tarnish any Democrat who wants to work with them.”
A Rock and a Hard Place
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) was surprised that Schumer didn’t offer support for Sinema and Manchin against future primary challengers. He said, “It seemed weird to me. I think it’s a mistake. They’re going to need them on a lot of stuff. They got a big Supreme Court nominee coming up here.” Thune added, “If I were him, I would figure out how to work with them because they’re the difference right now whether they’re in the majority or not.”
Schumer’s snub comes at a dangerous time for Democrats. Over the next nine months, the president and his party need to show American voters they can get things done or face a drubbing at the ballot box in November. If he shows support for Manchin and Sinema, he will be weakened internally, and yet if he publicly casts them aside, the razor-thin Senate majority granted courtesy of VP Kamala Harris’s deciding vote could become a minority; no more legislation, no more sway, and no more power. And Democrats have no one to blame but themselves.
~Read more from Mark Angelides.