President Joe Biden went too far when he claimed he hasn’t gotten more done legislatively because Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin “vote more with my Republican friends.” By one measure, both have voted with Biden’s position 100% of the time since he has been in office.
Sinema and Manchin are among two of the most centrist Democrats in the Senate, and buck the party line more often than their Democratic peers. They also represent, perhaps, the largest roadblock to altering or doing away with the filibuster to allow Democrats to pass some of Biden’s agenda without any Republican support.
But both have voted along with Biden’s position 100% of the time since he has been in office, according to a FiveThirtyEight review of votes. They are among 35 members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate with that perfect score. The other 15 members of the Democratic caucus scored slightly lower, voting in line with Biden’s position either 96.7% or 96.6% of the time.
During the Trump administration, both Manchin and Sinema voted along with Trump’s position 50.4% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of votes. Two other Democratic senators, Heidi Heitkamp (54.8%) and Joe Donnelly (54.2%), voted in line with Trump more often, but both are no longer in the Senate.
FiveThirtyEight also predicted how often a legislator might be expected to vote along with Trump given the margin of victory (or loss) that Trump had in that state in the 2016 presidential race against Hillary Clinton. By that measure, Sinema voted more in line with Trump than one might expect given her constituency — and by a wider margin than any other Democrat.
In the final year of Trump’s presidency, Manchin and Sinema voted against the Democratic Party majority 38.5% and 33.1% of the time, respectively, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis as reported by the Associated Press. GovTrack ranked Sinema and Manchin the first and third “most politically right” among Democrats in 2019 and 2020, according to its ideology scorecard. But none of that means they voted more often with Republicans.
“I have always prided myself on my efforts to reach across the aisle to work with my colleagues and do what is best for West Virginia and our nation,” Manchin said in a press release on May 6. “I am proud this ranking from CQ Roll Call reflects those efforts.”
Manchin also has used his position as a swing vote to push Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in a slightly more centrist direction. After initially withholding his support, Manchin was able to get Democrats to end a $300 per week unemployment benefit supplement on Sept. 6, a month earlier than what Democrats had originally proposed. And Manchin successfully capped a provision to make the first $10,200 in benefits nontaxable to only those making less than $150,000.
But, again, that doesn’t mean Manchin has voted more often with Republicans. On some of the most contentious votes early in Biden’s presidency, Manchin and Sinema have voted along party lines. Their votes in favor of the American Rescue Plan and the nomination of Kristen Clarke to be assistant attorney general allowed both to pass with little or no Republican support. Manchin also voted in favor of forming a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Sinema missed the vote due to a “personal family matter,” but her spokesperson says she would have voted for it had she been there. The bill failed to garner the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to proceed.
Biden supports H.R. 1, the For the People Act, that was passed by House Democrats on March 3. It would expand voting rights and change campaign finance and redistricting rules. But it faces a daunting fate in the Senate, which is equally divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?'” Biden said. “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.”
Although Biden didn’t name Manchin and Sinema, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made clear at a press briefing on June 2 that’s what Biden meant.
“If Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema were standing with me here today … they would call out their own independent streaks, and that’s something that I think they’re both proud of,” Psaki said. “They both vote for and represent the people in the states that — and all the people who elected them to represent them in the Senate.”
Psaki said Biden was “simply conveying” that “his threshold, his litmus test is not to see eye to eye on every single detail of every issue — and he doesn’t with Sen. Sinema and Sen. Manchin. … He believes there’s an opportunity to work together, to make progress, to find areas of common ground even if you have areas of disagreement.”
Psaki insisted Biden “wasn’t intending to convey anything other than a little commentary on TV punditry.”
Sinema, for her part, is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of H.R. 1 and vocal proponent of it. She does not, however, support changing or doing away with the filibuster — meaning H.R. 1, among other Biden priorities, would need the support of 10 Republican senators to pass.
A filibuster is an action to delay or prevent a vote on a measure, through ongoing debate. To end a filibuster and force a vote on legislation, the Senate needs 60 votes.
Manchin has said he “would not be able to support” the version of H.R. 1 passed by the House. But he did say there are parts of it that he is in favor of, and that he’s convinced a bipartisan bill could be achieved.
He has also made clear he would not support altering the filibuster rule to allow the bill — or any other – to be pushed through without any Republican support.
“How in the world could you, with the tension we have right now, allow a voting bill to restructure the voting of America on a partisan line?” he told Vox.
Biden himself has said he does not want to eliminate the filibuster entirely, though he says he “strongly” supports reinstating the so-called talking filibuster, meaning that senators would literally have to stand at a podium and talk for hours and hours to maintain a filibuster. The current filibuster is “being abused in a gigantic way,” he said at a press conference on March 25, and he believes a talking filibuster would deter some attempts to block legislation.
At her press conference on June 2, Psaki insisted Biden’s comments about Manchin and Sinema were not an attempt to convey “a new position on his [Biden’s] view on the filibuster.”
“His view on the filibuster continues to be that there should be a path forward for Democrats and Republicans to make voting easier, to move forward on progress for the American people,” Psaki said. “That position hasn’t changed.”
Nevertheless, Biden’s comments come as more and more Democrats are calling for an end to the filibuster, arguing it is the only way to move the Democratic agenda forward.
There’s little question that the filibuster — or threat of it — has helped to stall various Democratic priorities, such as legislation on gun control, LGBTQ rights and immigration. And so Manchin and Sinema’s opposition to altering the filibuster may doom some or even much of the president’s agenda.
But, again, it doesn’t mean Manchin and Sinema, who are both up for reelection in 2024, “vote more with my Republican friends.” Since Biden has been president, the votes from those two senators have been entirely in line with the president’s public policy positions.
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