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• Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema support the continued use of the Senate’s filibuster rule. This stance imperils the prospects for key elements of Biden’s agenda.
• However, on actual votes taken in the Senate, both Manchin and Sinema supported Biden’s position 100% of the time.
In a speech marking 100 years since a race massacre in Tulsa, President Joe Biden gave a rhetorical nudge to two senators he’d like to see greater support from.
"June should be a month of action on Capitol Hill," Biden said in Tulsa on June 1. "I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’ Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends. But we’re not giving up."
Biden didn’t specify which Democratic senators he had in mind, and the White House didn’t respond to an inquiry for this article. But observers widely assumed that he was referring to Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose words and positions have not always been in lockstep with Biden’s.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., surrounded by reporters at the Capitol on May 26, 2021. (AP)
Manchin effectively killed the nomination of Neera Tanden to be director of the Office of Management and Budget by signaling that he would not vote to confirm her, and he flexed his muscle in the crafting of Biden’s relief package, first by voicing concerns about a national $15 hourly minimum wage (a hike that never made the final bill) and then by delaying the measure for hours over the scope of unemployment benefits. Manchin did, however, vote for the bill in the end.
But the biggest issue on which Manchin and Sinema have broken with other Senate Democrats is on the future of the filibuster, the longstanding procedural tool in the U.S. Senate that allows a minority of 41 senators to block action on a bill. Both Manchin and Sinema have generally said they support keeping the filibuster, even though many Democrats in the 50-50 Senate would like to end its use on at least some legislation. Because of the Democrats’ narrow margin, Manchin and Sinema’s position effectively blocks that option for Democrats.
However, in his Tulsa remarks, Biden was wrong to say that Manchin and Sinema — or any other Senate Democrat, for that matter — "voted more" with Republicans than with Biden.
According to FiveThirtyEight vote tallies through May 28, both Manchin and Sinema have voted 100% with Biden. That’s not only a perfect score, but it’s a slightly higher party unity score than the ones earned by a number of liberals, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., outside the Capitol on Feb. 5, 2020. (AP)
"There is absolutely no way those two are voting more with Republicans" than with Biden, said Utah State University political scientist Josh Ryan, a specialist in Congress.
That said, Ryan added, Manchin and Sinema "won't do the big thing Democrats want to do now, which is get rid of the filibuster. What he really meant to say was, ‘Manchin and Sinema are preventing my agenda from passing because they won't agree to changing the filibuster rules.’"
Biden said that two senators — Manchin and Sinema — "voted more with my Republican friends" than with the president from their own party.
Manchin and Sinema support continued use of the filibuster, a position that imperils key elements of Biden’s agenda. Manchin also defied Biden on one cabinet nomination and on aspects of the president’s coronavirus relief bill.
But on actual votes taken in the Senate, both Manchin and Sinema supported Biden’s position 100% of the time. We rate the statement Mostly False.
Joe Biden, remarks in Tulsa, June 1, 2021
Associated Press, "Biden calls out Sinema, Manchin for blocking agenda," June 1, 2021
FiveThirtyEight, "Does Your Member Of Congress Vote With Or Against Biden?" updated May 28, 2021
VoteView.com, DW-NOMINATE ratings for the Senate, accessed June 2, 2021
Heritage Action, congressional vote ratings, accessed June 2, 2021
Email interview with Josh Ryan, Utah State University political scientist, June 2, 2021
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