After angering Republicans and Independents over his vote for President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, Joe Manchin sounds like the most conservative Senate Democrat once again.
The West Virginia senator is giving floor speeches tweaking his party over the national debt, voting with Republicans on rebukes of key Biden policies, partnering with the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on legislation, and criticizing Biden Cabinet officials. He’s even declining to identify as a Democrat in television interviews, preferring simply the description of “an American.”
Manchin finding his moderate mojo comes amid heavy speculation regarding his political future. The famously opaque senator has kept everyone guessing whether he’ll run for re-election next year, even as Republicans are lining up to take him on in a red state that voted heavily for Donald Trump.
Asked again this week if he’ll run for re-election, Manchin said he would only be “involved.” In what? He declined to say.
In true Manchin fashion, the senator rejected the notion that he was veering to the right ahead of a possible bid for another term during an interview with HuffPost. Instead, he maintained that he is simply focused on things most Americans care about, like improving the federal response to disastrous trail derailments, including the one recently in East Palestine, Ohio, near his state of West Virginia.
“These are very legitimate things,” Manchin told HuffPost. “Look at my voting record. I’m not tacking anywhere. I’m going pretty straight from here to there.”
Manchin this week aided Republicans in passing a resolution that would nullify a Biden administration rule encouraging efforts to invest in an environmentally-conscious or ethical way, setting up the first veto of Biden’s presidency. He accused the administration of prioritizing “a liberal policy agenda over protecting and growing the retirement accounts of 150 million Americans.”
The senator was also an early Democratic supporter of a GOP-led effort to roll back changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal code. This generated outrage and opposition over provisions lowering the maximum sentences for crimes like carjacking and murder. He appeared to be one of few Democrats who backed the effort until Biden shocked Washington by announcing he planned to sign the measure into law, which would overturn a D.C. law for the first time in three decades.
Last month, Manchin co-sponsored legislation with Cruz that would block the government from banning the use of gas stoves even though there are no plans to outlaw them.
He’s also had plenty of tough words for fellow Democrats in recent weeks. He told CNN that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is “not getting high grades right now,” joining the chorus of GOP criticism in the wake of the government’s handling of the East Palestine train derailment. And he’s been hammering Democratic leadership over their stance against negotiating with Republicans over the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.
“My Democratic friends don’t want to say a word about our out-of-control spending and are outright refusing to even talk to Republicans about reasonable, responsible reforms,” Manchin said in a Thursday speech on the Senate floor, urging Democrats to agree to budget cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit.
Republicans view Manchin’s seat as one of their party’s best pickup opportunities in 2024. A recent poll by a group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) found Manchin trailing in a hypothetical matchup against West Virginia GOP Gov. Jim Justice, who is considering jumping into the race. (The poll was likely designed to push Justice into doing so).
If they can flip West Virginia, Republicans will have even better odds at recapturing the Senate majority after their disappointing performance in the 2022 midterm elections. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, suggested that vulnerable Democrats like Manchin are doing all they can to make their lives a little easier next year.
“Most of these votes are show votes right now since President Biden is going to veto it,” Daines told HuffPost of Democrats who joined GOP efforts to nullify Biden policies. “I’m kind of chuckling watching these foxhole conversions as folks are thinking about their reelections.”
Democrats are facing a brutal map next year, and Manchin deciding to stick around would give the party the best chance of retaining their majority. Although he can be a painful thorn in their side, Manchin’s colleagues hope he doesn’t float his houseboat away from D.C. forever.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to convince him to stick around,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told HuffPost. “I understand he makes progressives angry, but he always reminds us that if progressives want more progressive senators elected, they should elect more progressive senators. Joe’s a centrist. He always has been.”
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