Manchin and Sinema have been allowed to lie about the filibuster
Senator Joe Manchin speaking to reporters. (Screenshot)

We’ve now reached a critical stage in which President Biden went full force in attacking those standing in the way of voting rights, comparing them to the racists of the past, including George Wallace. And the president, in his powerful speech in Georgia yesterday in which he demanded the Senate create a filibuster carve-out for voting rights, didn’t distinguish between Republicans and those two Senate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who refuse to back a carve-out.

This article was originally published at The Signorile Report

The media has, however, allowed Manchin and Sinema to distinguish themselves from GOP senators — who don’t support the voting rights legislation at all — as defending democracy in opposing a carve-out for the filibuster even as they support the voting rights bills. Reporters do this by not challenging the lies and distortions the two senators offer up.

Manchin, who has steadfastly refused to support a carve-out to the filibuster for voting rights legislation — ready to allow democracy to be destroyed — said this to reporters just a few days ago:

[The filibuster is] the tradition of the Senate here in 232 years now. … We need to be very cautious what we do. … That’s what we’ve always had for 232 years. That’s what makes us different than any place else in the world.

The statement is completely false (yet wasn’t challenged by the reporters), as the Washington Post’s fack-checker Glenn Kessler explained today:

The filibuster, contrary to Manchin’s suggestion, is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, which went into effect 232 years ago…
…[I]t was decades — 1856 — before the Senate established a right of unlimited debate…The word “filibustering” was first used on the Senate floor to connote unlimited debate in 1853, according to [legal scholars Catherine] Fisk and [Erwin] Chemerinsky. But it was not until the 1880s that filibusters were successful in derailing legislation…

That would make it 166 years that it’s been around, not 232 (and certainly not created by the nation’s founders, who explicitly rejected a supermajority for passing bills). Except even that is not exactly true. The current form of the filibuster, in which 60 votes are needed to even open debate — and an opposing senator is no longer required to hold the floor, speaking throughout the filibuster (eventually giving up or changing minds of proponents of a bill) — has only been around since 1975, as attorney Max Kennerly notes.

The filibuster has been changed, modified, reformed — whatever word you want to use — several times during the 20th century, and many exemptions have been made to it. That included just last month when the Senate raised the debt ceiling.

Moreover, while Democrats led by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted to end the use of the filibuster for lower court federal judges during the Obama years — because Republicans were blocking every one of President Obama’s appointees — Republicans led by Mitch McConnell ended the filibuster for Supreme Court justices just in time for Donald Trump to pack the court with extremists.

None of this is ever raised by reporters and interviewers with Manchin, or with Sinema, as they refuse to support ending or reforming the filibuster while Republicans are intent on blocking everything President Biden and Democrats want to accomplish for the American people.

Both Manchin and Sinema are allowed to promote themselves as upholding constitutional principles — again, though the Constitution has no stipulation for a filibuster — and the sanctity of Senate rules and procedures, as if those haven’t changed hundreds of times.

Sinema claimed last year that, “the filibuster was not created to accomplish one thing or another. It was created to bring together members of different parties to find compromise and coalition.”

That was preposterous, as many noted on social media. The filibuster wasn’t “created” so there would be comity; it was put in place many years after the nation’s founding and has been used by the minority to obstruct, overwhelmingly used to block civil rights legislation.

Sinema rarely gives interviews, though she goes to one reporter, Burgess Everett, at Politico — who never raises any of these issues or her lies. A recent rare CNN sit down with her also was a puffy interview that didn’t challenge her on her lies and distortions about the filibuster. It seems as if interviews aren’t granted unless certain conditions are met — like not bringing up specific issues — and media outlets are only too willing to get an interview with an elusive subject and beat out competition, even if means that subject gets a pass.

In the case of Manchin, he does give interviews in the hallways of Congress and elsewhere as he goes about his business, but he decides whom he allows to question him on the spot and ignores questions from others. Those he does speak with don’t challenge him on the lies he spouts in response — as we saw this week — and allow him, like Sinema, to promote himself as a defender of something sacred.

But if Sinema and Manchin really believed the minority should always have outsized power they wouldn’t support budget reconciliation — which is how the American Rescue Plan, which they voted for, was passed — since that is a filibuster carve-out itself, passed with only 51 votes. Of course, Republicans used the procedure to pass massive tax cuts for the wealthy under Trump, so it would be hard for Manchin and Sinema to oppose its use.

The truth is that Manchin and Sinema are bowing to donors who want the filibuster in place for legislation like voting rights because they don’t want Democrats advancing their agenda and want the GOP to have power in the minority, and, ultimately, to seize back the majority. As we’re headed for a showdown on the filibuster and a carve-out for voting rights, blame should also be laid at the feet of the media, which has allowed the lies to go unchecked.