COMMENTARY

Where is #TheResistance now? Democrats should fear their base now more than ever

Democrats aren't in disarray — they are being held hostage by so-called centrists who are operational Republicans

By Sophia Tesfaye
Published September 21, 2021 1:28PM (EDT)
Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema | Pro-choice protesters march outside the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 in Austin, TX.  (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema | Pro-choice protesters march outside the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 in Austin, TX. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

If there was ever a time to hit the panic button in the Biden era, Monday was that day.

Monday marked one week before so-called moderates in the House of Representatives attempt to force a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package passed at the center of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda. With his approval ratings stalling due to the double hits of a lackluster response to the delta variant and continued vaccine hesitancy holding down economic recovery, along with a messy withdrawal from Afghanistan that included the fatal drone bombing of 10 civilians, mostly children, Biden is now facing threats of sabotage from the very people with whom he made a political bed for decades in D.C. 

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona were out on Monday with a pair of demands for their fellow Democrats facing a confluence of deadlines, both real and arbitrary. Manchin, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who has reportedly sought to "remake President Biden's climate legislation in a way that tosses a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry," now says he would like to delay action on Biden's agenda until 2022. That's just ahead of the midterm elections, so we all know Manchin's suggestion is the fast lane to nowhere. Sinema, for her part, is throwing a last-minute wrench in negotiations to take up for Big Pharma in opposing Democrats' plans to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices directly. 

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments in the case against Missippi's abortion law in December, likely dismantling the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade by June. Just weeks before, the high court laid the groundwork for this when it upheld Texas' ban on abortions. At least one abortion provider in the state has already been sued. 

Monday was also the day that Senate Democrats, rebuffed by the Senate Parliamentarian the day before, frantically introduced an attempt at a legislative workaround to the ruling that granting legal status to immigrants isn't budgetary, and thus can't be included in the filibuster-proof reconciliation bill. Never mind that in 2005, the Republican-controlled Senate used reconciliation to pass immigration reforms citing citizenship as a significant economic and budgetary issue, because Manchin and Sinema have decided that defending a relic of Senate rules is more important than defending Democrats' majorities in Congress — or even democracy for that matter. (Republicans even fired the Senate Parlimentarian in 2001 after he ruled against one of their tax cut proposals.) 

Immigration matters, as the world saw on Monday with images of U.S. border patrol agents whipping their horse reigns as they corraled Haitian migrants back into the Rio Grande at the Texas border with Mexico, under a Democratic administration, too. Thanks to a cadre of radical right-wing justices pushed onto the federal bench by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during Donald Trump's presidency, the Biden administration is forced to implement Trump's extraordinarily draconian Remain in Mexico policy which prohibits asylum seekers from entering the U.S. while awaiting review. Now the Biden administration has enlisted the Defense Department to help in one of the fastest, large-scale expulsions of refugees from the United States in decades.

So where is #TheResistance? 


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For the most part, moderate members of the Democratic caucus in Congress were not flooded at their home districts during the August recess, even as they very publicly threatened to hijack Biden's agenda. Activists like those with Rev. William Barber's Poor People's Campaign have consistently applied pressure to Democrats like Manchin, but without the masses in the streets protesting the horrific images of Haitians hunted on horseback under the Biden administration with the same fervor present when protesting kids in cages under Trump, it's little surprise things stay the same.

"The policies that are being enacted now and the horrible treatment of these innocent people who have come to the border must stop immediately," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., calling the practice "xenophobic," said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "We must allow asylum seekers to present their claims at our ports of entry and he afforded due process." 

A march for citizenship on Tuesday in Washington D.C. aligns Schumer with House progressive and Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Democrats are not in disarray, in fact, they are more unified they have ever been; they're just being held hostage. 

"I have been working hard on my portion of it,"  Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told reporters of the multi-trillion dollar reconciliation package. "If it's actually going to happen, we're doing pretty well. So but I, you know, I mean, go ask Manchin or Sinema." 

The chaos we are currently watching in Washington, D.C. comes down to the personal interest of these two. 


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Manchin currently maintains ownership stakes in two coal companies that he founded, including one run by his son, Joe Manchin IV. The senior "Manchin has personally grossed more than $4.5 million from those firms," The Intercept reported. Former Manchin aides with fossil fuel industry clients are able to directly lobby the senator. The same pattern is present with Sinema's newfound opposition to Medicare drug price negotiations despite its overwhelming popularity across the partisan divide. (Even Donald Trump talked big about lower prescription drug prices.) 

In 2009 there were 60 Democratic Senators (briefly). Now, a dozen years later, it is an epic struggle to get the country to elect 50 Democratic senators, after a decade in which the GOP descended into open white fascism. This trendline looks ominous. The flaw in the "Vote Blue No Matter Who" electoral strategy is that what gerrymandered maps and politically polarized sorting leaves us with too often is razor-thin margins where the Who really does matter. Sure Republicans didn't repeal Obamcare when they had control of Congress under Trump, but they passed the main priorities for both of their bases: corporate tax cuts and stacking the federal bench with conservative judges.  

The donors can't be the only people Democrats in Congress are afraid of. The time is now for #TheResistance to make its return back to the streets — before it's too late. 


Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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