Joe Manchin: Mr. Bipartisan

Joe Manchin
US Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, speaks before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the HUD proposed 2022 budget, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 10, 2021. (Photo by Alex Wong / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALEX WONG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is perhaps the most powerful and influential lawmaker in Washington today, and the most well-known Joe in D.C. other than the president. Manchin effectively has veto power over President Joe Biden’s agenda in the current Senate, which is split 50-50. If Joe Manchin dissents from his party on any vote, it automatically prevents the resolution from passing. This has made Manchin one of the most courted lawmakers ever. He is constantly facing pressure from the Democrats to vote with the party, and from the Republicans to vote like the bipartisan lawmaker he says he is. All of this adds up to one U.S. Senator who controls how the entire Senate votes on the most heated partisan issues.

Joe Manchin’s Background

To fully understand why Joe Manchin is Mr. Bipartisan in the Senate, we must first discuss how he became the Senior Senator of one of the reddest states in the country. Manchin was born in the small coal-mining town of Farmington, West Virginia. His father and grandfather both owned businesses and were both elected Mayor of the town. This is essentially what put the political bug in Manchin, growing up around politicians.

In 1982, he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates. In both 1986 and 1992, Manchin won races to the West Virginia State Senate, representing both the 14th and 13th state districts, respectively. During the 1996 election cycle, he ran unsuccessfully for governor, losing to Democrat Charlotte Pritt in the primary. In 2000, Manchin ran and easily won a race for West Virginia Secretary of State. Then in 2004, he again tried to run for Governor, this time winning in a landslide. Manchin ran for reelection in 2008, defeating Republican Russ Weeks with nearly 70% of the vote.

During his time as governor, Joe Manchin rose to national prominence with his noticeably moderate tone and outlook. Manchin spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2008 in support of then-Presidential nominee Barack Obama. However, Manchin openly opposed many of President Obama’s landmark policies. This includes voting against cloture (bringing the debate to a quick end) on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal Act. He also voted to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood in 2015. Manchin never seemed to be afraid of the political consequences of his attempts at bipartisanship.

In 2010, with Senator Robert Byrd’s health declining, there was speculation that Manchin may seek Byrd’s seat should he die. When Robert Byrd passed away on July 28, Manchin appointed his legal advisor Carte Goodwin as interim Senator. Manchin himself announced that he would run for the Senate seat shortly thereafter. On August 28, Joe Manchin won the Democratic nomination, and he comfortably defeated Republican John Raese in a special election. In 2012, now running for a full six-year term, Senator Manchin easily defeated Raese again. He was reelected in 2018 for a second full term, beating current West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey by just over 3%.

Joe Manchin currently serves in several capacities in the Senate, including Chairing the Senate Energy Committee. In the last three years, he has also served as the Ranking Member on the Energy Committee. This committee is appropriate for Manchin, considering his state produces the second-most coal in the country.

The Anatomy of the Compromise

Senator Manchin on multiple occasions has called himself a “moderate conservative Democrat.” This is evident because Manchin has refused to support bills that did not have adequate bipartisan support. An example of this is the current open proposal by President Biden, The American Rescue Plan of 2021. It seeks to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. Senator Manchin has said that he would be open to a smaller increase, but not Biden’s proposal.

On other issues, such as abortion, Manchin has said he is pro-life. In the past, he has both supported and voted against funding for Planned Parenthood, an agency that provides abortions. On guns, Manchin has supported the Second Amendment and is actually a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). However, he has also co-sponsored a bill with Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to make background checks more thorough. The bill, proposed in 2013, was not able to pass despite some bipartisan support. On the issue of immigration, Joe Manchin opposes the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented immigrants the right to apply for temporary citizenship if they meet certain qualifications. He also supports a border wall and voted in favor of using federal funds to accomplish this task.

The Frustration with Senator Manchin

Joe Manchin’s constant attempts at bipartisanship are not welcome by everyone, especially many of his colleagues. Several Democrats in congress have publicly criticized Manchin for his attempts to reach across the aisle. They are especially critical of his refusal to vote to end the legislative filibuster, a position they say is preventing President Biden from fully implementing his agenda. Recently, outspoken New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that Manchin has the obligation to vote with his party to end the filibuster. She says that the “old Republican Party” that Manchin so often used to work with no longer exists. Instead, it has become a cabal of radical Trump-loving loyalists. Manchin himself has pushed back on this criticism, saying that he does not believe every Republican is beholden to Trump.

Manchin has further angered more progressive Democrats in his party by also opposing issues championed by those individuals. These include Medicare for All, increasing the size of the Supreme Court, and defunding the police. Many of these issues could theoretically be passed in the Senate if Manchin were willing to abolish the filibuster–and vote for those proposals after. Many Democratic voters have also called for his dismissal from the Senate if he continues to refuse to vote with his party on some of the most important issues.

On that point, many Democrats have brought up the idea that Manchin could be challenged in the primary in 2024. Since Manchin opposes abolishing the filibuster, many Democrats see his replacement as the only way real progress will ever come. The problem with Manchin’s seat is that he represents a state that is not only reliably Republican but voted for former President Trump twice by an average of 68%. It is not the type of state that normally elects Democrats that are any more Liberal than Joe Manchin. So it is likely that if Senator Manchin is ever defeated in a primary by a more progressive Democrat, that person would lose to a Republican challenger.

An Independent Voice Matters

Senator Joe Manchin is one of about ten moderate senators who will from time to time buck their party. This means that these ten individuals have the most power to steer legislation and block or advance bills. So in essence, the more independent a lawmaker is, the more power they will have. As the most centrist Senator, Manchin is able to control what the entire Senate can and can not pass in the current 50-50 split. This gives him a wealth of power, but also a certain responsibility to vote the way his constituents want. And for a man elected by almost as many Republicans as Democrats, his middle-of-the-road approach seems to be getting the job done.

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