Democrats have the thinnest of possible majorities in the U.S. Senate. Together with two independents who caucus with them (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine), they have 50 seats out of 100 in the U.S. Senate, which given the Democratic Vice President who can break tie votes, gives them a majority.
But because two "moderate" Democratic members of the caucus won't vote to abolish the filibuster for ordinary legislation, the Democrats are grossly limited in what they can accomplish legislatively, even with its (albeit thin) majority control of the U.S. House (which doesn't have anti-majoritarian impediments to passing legislation) and the Presidency. Those two "moderate" Democrats are Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The problem is exacerbated because there are not ten Republicans in Congress who are moderate enough to provide the sixty votes needed to break a filibuster attempt by their own party on almost any issue that comes before the Senate (on a good day on a particular sympathetic issue, there might be six Republicans who break ranks with their party). And, not even the most moderate Republicans in the Senate (e.g. Susan Collins of Maine) break with their party as often a Manchin and Sinema does in the Democratic Party.
Manchin gets a pass in my book. He may be the most conservative Democrat in Congress, but he has to be. No other Democrat in Congress was elected from a more conservative constituency. Trump won the Presidential election in West Virginia in 2020 with 68.62% of the vote, compared to 29.69% for Biden, making it one of the reddest states in the U.S. Any other Democrat would lose to a generic Republican challenger in West Virginia. The only other state in the entire United States that backed Trump more soundly than West Virginia did in 2020 was Wyoming here Trump received 69.94% of the vote to Biden's 26.55%. Senators Jon Tester of Montana is the only other Democrat in the Senate elected from a state that Trump won.
Sinema, on the other hand, has no such excuse. Yes, she is from a swing state. But she didn't run as an arch-conservative within the range of Democratic politics, and Biden narrowly won the Presidential election in Arizona in 2020 with 49.36% of the vote to 49.06% of the vote for Trump, the second thinnest majority of any state won by Biden on both a percentage basis (0.31 percentage points) after Georgia (where the margin was 0.24 percentage points), and the thinnest in terms of the absolute number of votes that Biden won by, i.e. 10,457 votes and in the percentage of the vote won by Biden.
Nationwide, Biden won 306 electoral votes from 25 states, the District of Columbia and Nebraska's Second Congressional District with 51.3% of the popular vote, while Trump won 232 electoral votes from 25 states and Maine's Second Congressional District with 46.9% of the popular vote (incidentally, the shift in electoral votes caused by the 2020 census wouldn't have changed the result, which would have been 298-240 in that case).
In short, the reason that the Democrats can't get much done legislatively is that they don't have enough seats in the Senate and lack of ability to pass legislation (like election law reforms to thwart anti-democratic legislation by Republicans at the state level and admitting the District of Columbia as a state) that they need to level the playing field in their attempt to do so. Neither Manchin nor Sinema, however, vote with Republicans in the U.S. Senate more than they vote with Democrats.
Manchin is the marginal vote to determine if legislation will pass or not in the legislative process, in the absence of a filibuster (which is the standard that applies to budget legislation) and is the marginal vote in voting on Presidential nominations (which are no longer subject to the filibuster). But Manchin and Sinema allow the 10th least conservative Republican in the Senate (Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who is much, much more conservative than they are) to be the marginal vote to determine if other legislation will pass or not in the federal legislative process.
This is deeply problematic because the Republican minority in the Senate that is blocking Democratic legislative efforts represents a far smaller share of the nation's population (43.5%) than the Democrats do (Republican candidates also won only 43.4% of the votes cast for Senate candidates over the last six year election cycle). Republicans representing states with as little as 25% of the U.S. population can sustain a filibuster (in contrast, when the Republicans are in the majority it takes Democrats who represent 46% of the U.S. population to sustain a filibuster). And, because anti-democratic voter suppression tactics are an important reason that some of those Republicans were elected in the first place in swing states. The block of 41 Republican votes needed to sustain a filibuster disproportionately come from states with the most discriminatory election laws (which would probably have flipped North Carolina in 2020, Florida and possibly also Texas in 2018, and possibly Pennsylvania and/or Missouri in 2016).
The residents of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, of course, have no voting representation at all in either house of Congress, and of them, only the District of Columbia has any say in Presidential elections. If they were states, Puerto Rico would probably be a swing state that elected moderates to Congress, on balance, while the others would probably support Democrats much more often than Republicans.
This isn't to say that the Democrats shouldn't be faulted for failing to win Senate seats in more winnable states including two seats (Maine and Pennsylvania) from states that Biden won (although the alignment between the Presidential vote and the Senators from each state is very strong, with West Virginia and Montana being the only states where one Senate seat is held by a Democrat in a red state). The 2020 Democratic losses in North Carolina and Maine, the 2018 Democratic loss in Florida, and the 2016 Democratic loss in Pennsylvania were particular disappointing. Democrats hold only one of two seats in Ohio, which is winnable. They didn't win either of the two seats in North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Iowa, Nebraska, or South Carolina, which could conceivably be winnable.
How moderate are Manchin and Sinema?
VoteView, which analyzes the relatively liberal/moderate/conservative positioning of each senator in relation to one another, makes clear that while Manchin and Sinema are the most moderate of the 50 Democrats in the Senate in the 117th Congress, they are not all that close to having voted with Republicans more often. The most liberal Republican senator according to VoteView? Maine's Susan Collins. (If you want more on how VoteView analyzes these votes, read this.) The same was true in the 116th Congress, with Manchin and Sinema (as well as
Arkansas[ed. Alabama Sen. Doug Jones) the most conservative Democrats, but simply not all that close to the most liberal Republican, which, again, was Collins.The latest bipartisan rankings by CQ Roll Call show that Manchin voted against his party's majority 38.5% of the time in 2020 while Sinema did so 33.1% of the time. Which were the highest percentages among both Republicans and Democrats. But voting against your party a third of the time isn't the same as voting with Republicans more than Democrats. . . .The reality of the modern Congress -- and this is radically different from even 20 years ago -- is that the ideological middle barely exists. Yes, Manchin, Sinema and Collins are the most centrist of their respective parties, but they are nowhere near the likes of long-gone names like John Chafee of Rhode Island, John Breaux of Louisiana and Zell Miller of Georgia, who were regularly siding with the opposition party on key votes.
Incidentally, of Colorado's Senators, John Hickenlooper is the 39th most liberal Democrat and Michael Bennet is the 44th most liberal Democrats, putting both men on the centrist side of the Democratic party caucus in the Senate.
Moderate Democratic Senator Senator Doug Jones from Alabama, a Democrat, who won in something of a fluke election against a pedophile Republican, was replaced by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, the most conservative Republican in the Senate.
How do the members of the U.S. Senate in the current session rank from liberal to conservative based upon their voting records as analyzed by VoteView (the 102 rankings include Vice President Kamala Harris, and one Senator, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who was appointed to fill a vacancy and replaced early in the session in a special election by a Democrat)?
(Incidentally, anti-gun control votes are one of the main reasons that Sanders is rated less liberal than Warren and Booker, while Harris comes out especially liberal because she only votes in highly partisan tie votes.)
|2.||HARRIS, Kamala Devi||Democrat||California||-0.709|
|3.||BOOKER, Cory Anthony||Democrat||New Jersey||-0.591|
|6.||MARKEY, Edward John||Democrat||Massachusetts||-0.512|
|8.||GILLIBRAND, Kirsten||Democrat||New York||-0.475|
|9.||WARNOCK, Raphael Gamaliel||Democrat||Georgia||-0.469|
|10.||OSSOFF, Thomas Jonathan (Jon)||Democrat||Georgia||-0.468|
|11.||SCHATZ, Brian Emanuel||Democrat||Hawaii||-0.443|
|15.||PADILLA, Alejandro (Alex)||Democrat||California||-0.411|
|17.||VAN HOLLEN, Christopher||Democrat||Maryland||-0.392|
|18.||CORTEZ MASTO, Catherine Marie||Democrat||Nevada||-0.368|
|19.||LUJÁN, Ben Ray||Democrat||New Mexico||-0.367|
|20.||REED, John F. (Jack)||Democrat||Rhode Island||-0.367|
|21.||MENENDEZ, Robert||Democrat||New Jersey||-0.366|
|22.||LEAHY, Patrick Joseph||Democrat||Vermont||-0.36|
|23.||SCHUMER, Charles Ellis (Chuck)||Democrat||New York||-0.359|
|24.||WHITEHOUSE, Sheldon||Democrat||Rhode Island||-0.355|
|26.||DURBIN, Richard Joseph||Democrat||Illinois||-0.348|
|27.||STABENOW, Deborah Ann||Democrat||Michigan||-0.343|
|29.||WYDEN, Ronald Lee||Democrat||Oregon||-0.33|
|30.||HEINRICH, Martin||Democrat||New Mexico||-0.328|
|31.||CARDIN, Benjamin Louis||Democrat||Maryland||-0.319|
|32.||CASEY, Robert (Bob), Jr.||Democrat||Pennsylvania||-0.315|
|33.||CANTWELL, Maria E.||Democrat||Washington||-0.304|
|35.||ROSEN, Jacklyn Sheryl||Democrat||Nevada||-0.285|
|38.||PETERS, Gary C.||Democrat||Michigan||-0.246|
|39.||HICKENLOOPER, John Wright||Democrat||Colorado||-0.243|
|40.||KAINE, Timothy Michael (Tim)||Democrat||Virginia||-0.243|
|41.||SHAHEEN, Jeanne||Democrat||New Hampshire||-0.237|
|42.||HASSAN, Margaret (Maggie)||Democrat||New Hampshire||-0.231|
|43.||COONS, Christopher A.||Democrat||Delaware||-0.229|
|44.||BENNET, Michael F.||Democrat||Colorado||-0.228|
|47.||KELLY, Mark Edward||Democrat||Arizona||-0.186|
|48.||CARPER, Thomas Richard||Democrat||Delaware||-0.176|
|49.||KING, Angus Stanley, Jr.||Independent||Maine||-0.157|
|51.||MANCHIN, Joe, III||Democrat||West Virginia||-0.056|
|52.||COLLINS, Susan Margaret||Republican||Maine||0.115|
|54.||CAPITO, Shelley Moore||Republican||West Virginia||0.266|
|55.||ROMNEY, Willard Mitt (Mitt)||Republican||Utah||0.314|
|56.||GRASSLEY, Charles Ernest||Republican||Iowa||0.347|
|57.||HOEVEN, John||Republican||North Dakota||0.352|
|58.||PORTMAN, Robert Jones (Rob)||Republican||Ohio||0.368|
|59.||WICKER, Roger F.||Republican||Mississippi||0.379|
|60.||CRAMER, Kevin||Republican||North Dakota||0.39|
|61.||ROUNDS, Marion Michael (Mike)||Republican||South Dakota||0.391|
|63.||GRAHAM, Lindsey O.||Republican||South Carolina||0.403|
|64.||McCONNELL, Addison Mitchell (Mitch)||Republican||Kentucky||0.403|
|67.||THUNE, John||Republican||South Dakota||0.413|
|69.||SHELBY, Richard C.||Republican||Alabama||0.436|
|70.||TILLIS, Thomas Roland (Thom)||Republican||North Carolina||0.437|
|71.||BURR, Richard M.||Republican||North Carolina||0.446|
|72.||SULLIVAN, Daniel Scott||Republican||Alaska||0.451|
|74.||FISCHER, Debra (Deb)||Republican||Nebraska||0.463|
|77.||CRAPO, Michael Dean||Republican||Idaho||0.51|
|79.||MARSHALL, Roger Wayne||Republican||Kansas||0.542|
|80.||BARRASSO, John A.||Republican||Wyoming||0.543|
|81.||INHOFE, James Mountain||Republican||Oklahoma||0.553|
|88.||KENNEDY, John Neely||Republican||Louisiana||0.599|
|91.||SCOTT, Richard Lynn (Rick)||Republican||Florida||0.633|
|92.||SCOTT, Tim||Republican||South Carolina||0.64|
|93.||TOOMEY, Patrick Joseph||Republican||Pennsylvania||0.641|
|94.||LUMMIS, Cynthia M.||Republican||Wyoming||0.677|
|95.||HAWLEY, Joshua David||Republican||Missouri||0.692|
|96.||SASSE, Benjamin Eric||Republican||Nebraska||0.736|
|97.||HAGERTY, William Francis (Bill)||Republican||Tennessee||0.759|
|99.||CRUZ, Rafael Edward (Ted)||Republican||Texas||0.837|
|102.||TUBERVILLE, Thomas Hawley (Tommy)||Republican||Alabama||0.936|