Silicon Valley’s Doomed Pursuit of D.C. Nirvana

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema
Kent Nishimura via Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
January 18, 2022

For more than a year, the Democratic Party’s most powerful donors have been locked in a high-stakes debate over the future of American elections. Democrats in Washington largely agree on the importance of new laws to expand early and mail-in voting and weaken voter identification laws, among other things. But behind closed doors, among the bundler set and the aides that serve them, the mega-donors who try to shape the party’s agenda have been sharply divided on strategy. On one side are more idealistic contributors who view voting rights legislation as a nonpareil priority, the only thing that can protect American democracy from backsliding. On the other side of the argument are more pragmatic donors who have worried that, in a 50-50 Senate, election reform would wallow in gridlock and steal valuable time from the rest of the progressive agenda. I’ve been talking to both sides regularly, curious as to who would be proven right.

Democrats, after all, need to break a filibuster in order to pass practically any legislation, let alone a sweeping voting reform package that is flatly opposed by Republicans. The clock is ticking before the G.O.P. likely retakes the House in November. And the Senate’s two most conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have been saying for months that they won’t support modifications to the chamber’s filibuster rule, even a carve-out just for this particular bill, no matter what Joe Biden and some big donors may want. That legislation, as of today, is now looking dead.