In a 50-50 Senate, One Democrat’s Power Swells

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, announced on Wednesday that he would support President Biden’s nominee for interior secretary, a move widely regarded as sealing her nomination. 
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

There is another Joe in town, with the power to give big Joe the jitters.

Senator Joe Manchin III, a genial but calculating West Virginia Democrat who has managed to survive in a deep-red state, is emerging as the legislative keystone of his party’s fragile 50-seat majority. Being the chamber’s most conservative Democrat essentially endows him with the same power held by Vice President Kamala Harris — who can cast tiebreaking votes in the chamber.

Without Mr. Manchin’s support, Democrats will often fall short of the 50 votes they need to permit Ms. Harris to put them over the edge.

And Mr. Manchin — who crossed the aisle last year to endorse Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who shares his centrism and who once threatened to retire unless Democrats compromised on a budget — was not shy about using his leverage in the past.

He has never had nearly so much.

Take Wednesday. His thumbs-up for a Biden cabinet appointee, Deb Haaland for interior secretary, was regarded as sealing her nomination. On the flip side, his announcement last week that he would oppose Neera Tanden, the president’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget, has rendered that confirmation increasingly unlikely.

These were mere warm-ups for a bigger test of his leverage. Party leaders are confident that Mr. Manchin will support the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that President Biden has made his top priority — but increasingly, they are asking what will he demand in return.

Mr. Manchin has already said he plans to oppose Mr. Biden’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, countering with an increase to $11 an hour supported by some Republicans.

With such positions, Mr. Manchin, a former governor, embodies the polyglot political personality of a state that delivered huge majorities for former President Donald J. Trump but has a deeply ingrained history of trade unionism and support of federal aid programs.

The state’s current governor, Jim Justice, a Democrat who flipped to the Republican Party to back Mr. Trump, has a similar independent streak: He supports Mr. Biden’s plan and urged his adopted party to “go big,” to no avail.

Senator Charles Schumer, the majority leader, has long believed Mr. Manchin’s loyalty on big votes entitled him to buck party orthodoxies. But Mr. Biden’s margin of error is small and Mr. Schumer is turning up the pressure a bit.

“I made a pitch today to our entire caucus and I said that we need to pass this bill,” Mr. Schumer told reporters on Tuesday when asked what Mr. Manchin might do. “The American people, the American public demands it.”

Mr. Biden, who likes Mr. Manchin personally and presided over his swearing-in a decade ago, will probably be called upon to intervene personally if Mr. Manchin throws up any serious roadblocks, administration officials say.

Mr. Biden can take consolation in one data point: There is one only Mr. Manchin, not several.

While President Obama entered office in 2009 with a bigger Senate majority, he also had to appease a half dozen conservative or centrist Democrats (led by the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee at the time, Max Baucus) who viewed themselves as legislative barons to be courted rather than corralled.

Immigrants received assistance with their U.S. citizenship applications in New York in 2018. Preseident Biden ended a ban on legal immigration that President Donald J. Trump imposed last spring.
Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

President Biden reopened the country on Wednesday to people seeking green cards, ending a ban on legal immigration that President Donald J. Trump imposed last spring, citing what he said was the need to protect American jobs during the pandemic.

In a proclamation, Mr. Biden said that the ban did “not advance the interests of the United States,” challenging Mr. Trump’s claim that the way to protect the American economy during the health crisis was to shut the country off from the rest of the world.

“To the contrary,” Mr. Biden said of his predecessor’s immigration ban, “it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

The president’s action was the latest example of his efforts to roll back Mr. Trump’s assault on the nation’s immigration system.

In April, as the coronavirus crisis worsened, Mr. Trump ordered a “pause” in the issuance of green cards, one of the primary ways that foreigners can receive permission to live and work in the United States.

At the time, Mr. Trump described his action as a way to protect Americans, millions of whom lost their jobs as the threat of the coronavirus shut down the economy.

Critics of Mr. Trump accused him of using the pandemic as an excuse to further advance his agenda of severely restricting immigration. And many scholars noted that studies had repeatedly cast doubt on the idea that immigration was a direct threat to American jobs because many immigrants take jobs that Americans do not want.

Mr. Biden echoed that sentiment. In his proclamation, he wrote that he found “that the unrestricted entry into the United States” of people seeking green cards was “not detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

If confirmed as U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai will need to fill in the details of the Biden administration’s “worker-focused” trade approach.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The Biden administration is hoping that its nominee for U. S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, who is scheduled to appear for her confirmation hearing on Thursday morning before the Senate Finance Committee, can serve as a consensus builder and help bridge the Democratic Party’s varying views on trade, Ana Swanson reports for The New York Times.

Ms. Tai, the chief trade counsel to the House’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, has strong connections in Congress, and supporters expect her nomination to proceed smoothly. But if confirmed, she will face bigger challenges, including filling in the details of what the Biden administration has called its “worker-focused” trade approach.

As trade representative, Ms. Tai will be a key player in restoring alliances strained under former President Donald J. Trump, as well as formulating the administration’s China policy, where she is expected to draw on prior experience bringing cases against China at the World Trade Organization during her time working in the office of the United States Trade Representative, from 2007 to 2014.

She will also take charge on matters that divide the Democratic Party, like whether to keep or scrap the tariffs Mr. Trump imposed on foreign products, and whether new foreign trade deals will help the United States compete globally or end up selling American workers short.

Leave a Reply