Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia cited the deadly attack on January 6 at the US Capitol as an event that changed his perspective on a divided Washington, saying, “You can’t have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other,” as he calls for Democrats and Republicans to work together on top legislative priorities.
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN, Manchin underscored his commitment to bipartisanship, warning that he won’t be willing to go it alone with Democrats until more serious negotiations get underway with Republicans. Manchin’s comments once again highlight why the moderate Democrat is the central political figure in Washington as President Joe Biden’s agenda depends on his vote in the evenly divided Senate.
“January 6 changed me. I never thought in my life, I never read in history books to where our form of government had been attacked, at our seat of government, which is Washington, DC, at our Capitol, by our own people,” Manchin said, adding, “So, something told me, ‘Wait a minute. Pause. Hit the pause button.’ Something’s wrong. You can’t have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other.”
Some of the other key points Manchin made in his interview with CNN included:
- He said that “reconciliation was never intended to be our main focus or our main vehicle for legislation” but that there is “a time and a place” for its use and emphasized, “I’m not killing the filibuster.”
- He called Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “well qualified.”
- He said he wants to meet with Georgia Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to discuss voting rights legislation.
- He said that he has an open line of communication with the White House and has had “a good friendship” with President Biden for a long time and a great relationship with Vice President Kamala Harris.
The West Virginia senator holds outsized influence in a chamber where Democrats control the narrowest possible majority under a 50-50 partisan split. Manchin says he wants to wield that power wisely.
“I’ve watched people that had power and abused it,” he said. “I’ve watched people that sought power and destroyed themselves, and I’ve watched people that have a moment of time to make a difference and change things and used it – I would like to be that third.”
Manchin’s comments come days after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that Democrats may be able to use the budget process known as reconciliation multiple times this year, unlocking far more opportunities to push Biden’s agenda with just a simple majority. But Manchin wouldn’t commit to going that way, arguing that he wanted to see more outreach to Republicans first.
“Reconciliation was never intended to be our main focus or our main vehicle for legislation. That’s not legislating. It has to be used from time to time. I understand that,” Manchin said. But he added, “There’s a time and a place.”
Manchin also stood by his opposition to changing Senate rules in order to eliminate the 60-vote threshold that must be cleared to pass most legislation so as to allow Democrats to push through more bills on a party-line vote. “I’m not killing the filibuster. I’ve been very, very clear, ” he said.
As it stands, Democrats would need to get 10 Republicans to back an infrastructure bill to pass it through so-called regular order. But it’s not clear any of them would come on board. Not a single Republican voted for the Covid-relief bill and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said that Biden’s infrastructure bill is far too big to pass as proposed. Repeatedly pressed on if he’s convinced that Republicans would get to “yes,” Manchin said more discussions were needed.
Asked if he believes Republican lawmakers would be willing to raise the corporate tax rate, Manchin said, “We’ll have to see on that,” adding, “There’s so many things going on with the tax code … can’t we close some of the loopholes?”
Manchin lauds Biden’s firearm actions
A proud gun owner, Manchin applauded Biden’s executive actions Thursday, arguing that they went further than just working around the fringes. He wouldn’t commit, however, to supporting a House-passed background check bill that could come to the floor when the Senate returns next week.
Asked if there have been any negotiations over the House legislation, Manchin said, “We haven’t gotten a bill yet, no we haven’t. I’m happy to work with them, sit down and we just call it common gun sense.”
Manchin calls ATF nominee ‘well qualified’
Manchin offered up words of praise for Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, calling the nominee “well qualified.” Biden announced Thursday that he is nominating gun control advocate David Chipman to lead the bureau, which hasn’t had a permanent director since 2015. Asked if he will back the nomination, Manchin said, “Everything I know he is well qualified and I have no reason why I would not, but I don’t know enough yet. He’s just been nominated today. We’ll look into that, but I’ve always been very deferential about the President putting his team together.”
Manchin describes good relationship with Biden and Harris
Manchin said that he has an open line of communication with the White House, and a good relationship with Biden.
“They’ve been very, very kind in talking. We do talk; we have communications as often as I would like and as often as they would like.” Of Biden specifically, he said, “Whenever he calls me, he calls and then we have a good conversation. We’ve had a good friendship and relationship for a long time. We understand each other.”
Manchin also emphasized that he has a good relationship with Harris and said it “was nobody’s fault” about an incident in which Harris had conducted interviews with West Virginia media to promote the Covid relief bill, an apparent move to apply pressure on Manchin that seemed to frustrate him at the time.
Downplaying the situation, Manchin said when asked about it, “Things were moving very fast. They were just coming into it. Kamala and I have been friends, OK? We sat together and had a great relationship … and still do. And the vice president and President is and always will be invited, no matter who they may be, to the state of West Virginia, and I’ll be there to meet them. Just things happened real quick and I didn’t know, I just didn’t know. It was nobody’s fault.”
Manchin wants to meet with Warnock and Ossoff on voting rights
Asked what changes he would like to see to the Senate voting rights legislation, the For the People Act, Manchin said he wants to discuss the issue with Georgia Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat. “I want to meet with my friends Raphael Warnock. I want to meet with Jon Ossoff. I want to meet with Jim Clyburn.” He added, “We’re going to get together, we will. We’re been talking. We’ve all talked,” and went on to say, “We’re going to bring Republicans and Democrats to sit down.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday