West Virginian Joe Manchin is trying to persuade his fellow Senators not to campaign against each other in the run-up to the November midterm elections. The Democrat displayed a written pledge on the Senate floor Tuesday. He announced his intention to sign the pledge and urged other Senators to join him. Manchin’s motive is open to question, however, given what is at stake in November.
According to a CNN report, any Senators who agree to sign the pledge would refrain from five specific campaign activities. They would not campaign against sitting Senators of the opposing party, directly fundraise against them, distribute campaign mailers against them, or endorse any campaign ads that target them. Additionally, they would refrain from endorsing social media campaigns against them.
Campaigning Is Hurting Civility on The Hill
Manchin argues that it is increasingly difficult for the two main parties to come to an agreement on anything when Senators are actively campaigning against each other. “That weekend they might be in my state campaigning against me,” Manchin said, “and then we come back on Monday and Tuesday and we’re supposed to sit down and work through our problems and differences.”
The Senator certainly has a valid point. Election campaigns get overheated, at times, and things are said – or written – about incumbents that may not always be easily brushed off. When it is a fellow Senator saying or writing or even merely endorsing those things, it hardly fosters an atmosphere of civility and bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
There may be a more cynical and politically-motivated purpose behind Manchin’s pledge, however. Senate Democrats have one eye on the Republicans’ razor-thin majority. While the minority party needs a net gain of just two seats to assume control of the Senate, it must defend 26 seats in November, with Republicans defending just eight. Manchin himself is facing a tough re-election battle in a state that President Trump easily won in 2016.
No-Campaigning Pledge a Bridge Too Far?
It could also be argued that Manchin’s ploy is a matter of self-preservation. His own party could still aid him in his re-election fight against a challenger while he – a sitting Senator – would be protected from potential campaigning and fundraising by his Republican counterparts.
It is unclear how many Senators will sign the non-binding pledge Manchin is touting. Likely, none will do so as Manchin says the pledge not to fundraise for campaigns against sitting Senators extends to donating to the parties’ respective national committees. It is hard to imagine Senators agreeing not to fundraise for their own parties. Both the Democratic and Republican National Committees would take a dim view of any Senator who agreed to such a thing.
Perhaps Electing Senators is The Problem?
The Senate has become notorious for gridlock. The House of Representatives continues to pass a significant number of bills, many of which have not yet reached the Senate floor. Originally, Senators were appointed by their respective states until the 17th Amendment to the Constitution gave to the people of each state the power to elect their Senators. If Manchin is concerned that campaigning for election and re-election has too deeply divided the Senate, he should, perhaps, consider supporting a move toward repealing the very constitutional amendment that caused the problem.