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Sexism v. Partisanship: Collins, Manchin, and the Kavanaugh Vote

Zaccary Bradt
Oct 8, 2018 · 5 min read
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Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME), two of the instrumental votes in the Kavanaugh confirmation. [AP Photo]

On Friday morning, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted in favor of closing debate on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. As Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was the only Republican vote against cloture, Democrats would need one more GOP senator to flip sides in the thirty hours of final debate between the cloture motion and the final vote — or, they would have, had Joe Manchin (D-WV) held the line and voted against cloture as every other Senate Democrat did. But he didn’t. Manchin voted with Senate Republicans in favor of advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination. The cloture motion passed 51–49, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote for Saturday afternoon. Democrats and anti-Kavanaugh activists counted on Murkowski’s no while they tried to court Collins to their side, mentioning Kavanaugh’s sexual assault allegations and bitter and aggressive temperament as sufficient reason to vote against his nomination.

The crux of the story lies on Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana. He would be out of town for the weekend, and therefore could not vote on the nomination unless extenuating circumstances were brought into play. This meant that any one defection by a Republican member of the Senate would secure Democrats’ goal of blocking the nomination. Lisa Murkowski, seemingly, would provide that single vote to swing the tally to 50–49 against. But once again, Joe Manchin comes into play. On Friday afternoon, Susan Collins rambled on for nearly an hour in what some called a courageous, but could more accurately be described as a cowardly, speech on her nomination vote. She spent over 25 minutes refuting judicial points that nobody was making to begin with, and another 15 minutes discrediting Dr. Ford’s testimony while trying to make herself seem like an ally to the #MeToo movement. Democrats and liberal activists were understandably upset, and spent most of the chagrin blaming her for her “decisive” vote to confirm Kavanaugh. She was called a traitor who had betrayed women, and don’t get me wrong — I agree. From the way her speech was framed, it seemed that she was never really “on the fence” about this vote. She seemed very prepared and made Kavanaugh out to be an ally of the very causes he has fought so hard against in his time on the DC Circuit Court. But that wasn’t the worst part of the afternoon. Minutes after Collins finished speaking on the Senate floor, Joe Manchin was approached by journalists in the hallways of the Capitol, where he cowered and committed to voting for Kavanaugh as well, becoming the decisive 50th vote of a 99-member Senate.

Flash forward to Friday night and even to Saturday after the vote has taken place, and there is one main argument online: Susan Collins, the “moderate” Republican has betrayed women (and us) by voting for Kavanaugh. However, apparently, Joe Manchin gets a pass because he’s “been a Democrat” and is in a “tough” re-election campaign this year. Many self-proclaimed liberals and “progressives” on Twitter were quick to blame Susan Collins for her vote in favor but seemed to be okay with Manchin’s vote because he’s voted with Democrats in the past. More accurately, though it’s because he’s simply part of the caucus. According to FiveThirtyEight, Manchin has voted in support of the Trump agenda and the Republican party-line over sixty-one percent of the time, the highest ratio of any Democrat in the Senate, and only eighteen percent behind Susan Collins’ 79%. If Joe Manchin was the entire Senate, Republicans would have a filibuster-proof majority.

The problem with this flawed analysis boils down to two qualities: partisanship and sexism. Sure, we may have wanted Susan Collins to take a stand for women and for all of America, essentially, but can we really say that we’re surprised? Throughout this process, she’s seemed fine with Kavanaugh as a nominee. She said that she felt comfortable that Kavanaugh wouldn’t overturn Roe v. Wade or restrict a woman’s right to choose. She thought that the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh’s sexual assaults was “thorough.” And probably most incredibly, she told us that she “believed” Dr. Ford was assaulted, but that Kavanaugh wasn’t the attacker. And at the end of the day, she’s a Republican. The bottom line is, what gave us the impression that she would actually vote against Kavanaugh? Manchin, on the other hand, is a member of the Democratic party and the Democratic caucus in the Senate. Every other Democrat voted against the nomination. Why shouldn’t he do the same? The main argument I saw was that he is “facing a tough re-election” in West Virginia. This narrative conveniently forgets that he has an 88% chance of winning re-election and is leading by an average of 9 points in the polls. Every other “vulnerable” Senate Democrat: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Donnelly (IN), Claire McCaskill (MO), and Bill Nelson (FL) voted against Kavanaugh’s nomination. And according to FiveThirtyEight’s Senate prediction model and several other prediction organizations, every single one of their races is tougher for them than Manchin’s. Heidi Heitkamp, the most vulnerable, is down by 12 points in a recent poll, and is currently trailing in her campaign, with just a 31% chance of winning, and still had the courage to stand up for women across America and vote no.

Essentially, partisan affiliation should not matter in this situation. (Especially when politicians love to fawn about the “nonpartisanship” of the Supreme Court.) If you want to blame Collins but not Manchin, you’re going to need a better excuse than continuing to tell us he’s a Democrat when he votes with Republicans the majority of the time. Blaming Collins but not Manchin is just another example of the thinly-veiled sexism we always try to blame on the right. At the end of the day, it’s not the (D) or (R) next to your name that matters. It’s the Yea or Nay that actually makes a difference.

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