Inside the surprisingly close Biden-Manchin relationship

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has been seen as an early impediment to progressives and his own president’s agenda in the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Manchin opposed a $15 federal minimum wage, doesn’t want to raise the corporate tax to 28 percent as proposed by Biden and wants to keep the filibuster, which requires Democrats to get 60 votes on major legislation to steer bills to Biden’s desk.

The West Virginia Democrat has even been cool to using budget reconciliation rules to get around the filibuster, something Biden endorsed to get an initial victory on his coronavirus relief package and may use again to get a second victory on an infrastructure bill.

Yet Biden and Manchin are also cut from the same cloth, say sources close to both veteran politicians.

Manchin has always seen himself in the Biden mold: Someone who is willing to cross party lines to find a compromise. They share the same first name and working-class roots, as well as a willingness to work together on heated issues including gun reform.

“They’re very similar creatures,” said one Democrat who is familiar with their relationship. “If there was ever a similar Democrat in the White House, Joe Biden’s Manchin’s guy. But I think there’s a difference in approach right now.”

While they never served in the Senate together, Biden got to know Manchin around the gun control debate when the then-vice president would frequently dial up the senator to talk about the issue, sources said.

“He knew that Biden could understand his position,” one source familiar with their conversations said. “He knew Biden was one of the few people who would get it.”

Manchin himself says he feels fondly for Biden.

“I think he’s a good human being, just a good heart and a good soul and he’s the right person at the right time for America, truly is,” Manchin told The Hill.

Manchin said he speaks regularly with Biden.

“We have a great relationship,” the senator said. Asked how often they are in contact, Manchin replied, “As often as he wants to, as often as is needed.”

He estimated he’s spoken to Biden five to seven times since he became president and expects to be invited to the White House soon to discuss infrastructure.

The West Virginia senator said Biden cajoled him about the need to pass a major infrastructure package in recent conversation.

He also agreed that he is rooting for Biden.

“I always want to see my president succeed,” Manchin said Tuesday.

“I think it’s important as an American. I wanted to see Donald Trump succeed, I wanted to see Barack Obama succeed. But Joe Biden is a little different because he’s been a senator for 36 years, he understands it,” he said. “Next to FDR, this person understands this process as well if not better than anybody I know.”

The senator’s affinity for Biden is “real and genuine,” said another source familiar with their interactions.

This source also suggested it would be good if people in Washington could learn to work together more.

“The easiest thing would be to go along to get along. But not every piece of legislation needs to be World War III,” the source said. “Either we make the process how it’s intended to work or this will inevitably tear the country apart.”

Manchin acknowledged that he and Biden, who are separated by five years in age, grew up in the same era of Democratic politics and both have looked out for the same predominantly unionized, working-class voters throughout their careers.

Biden did a small favor for the senator when he formally nominated his wife, Gayle Manchin, to be federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Joe Manchin said he was flattered by the gesture.

“That’s great. I hope to see she goes through well. Everybody seems to know her pretty well,” he said when asked about the selection. “I’m so proud.”

Still, Manchin has dug his heels in on a string of issues, including infrastructure and the filibuster. In a widely read Washington Post editorial last week, Manchin explained that the filibuster is “a critical tool to protecting that input and our Democratic form of government.” 

A Democratic strategist close to Manchin said the senator holds Biden in higher regard than almost any other public figure in Washington. 

“Of all the national figures in Washington, Joe Biden is the person he respects the most,” the strategist said.

“It’s the fact that Biden was a senator when this place worked, when Manchin believes it worked and when [late West Virginia Sen.] Robert Byrd said it worked,” the strategist added. “Biden worked in the Senate when it got big things done, which is what Manchin wants to do.”

“There’s more to it than these guys grew up in similar areas of the country at similar times,” the source remarked.

“Manchin wants Biden to succeed because that means actual good things are happening for West Virginia,” the strategist added. “He wanted the same thing from Trump and did everything he could to work with him but at the end of the day said, ‘I can’t do it because it’s bad for my state.’”

Biden aides and allies say they are doing what they can to give Manchin some space on the filibuster and other issues. Democratic strategist and Capitol Hill veteran Jim Manley said it’s smart for Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to give some room for the two to maneuver. 

“The last thing they should be doing is overreacting to the demands of the activists,” Manley said.

Manchin and Biden face a number of tests.

They differ on taxes, the minimum wage and gun control. Manchin in 2013 voted against amendments to restrict assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines — two proposals Biden endorsed last week. 

Manchin has also said a House-passed bill to expand background checks for all firearms transactions, which is widely supported by Democrats, went too far. Manchin doesn’t support requiring background checks for sales and transfers between family members and friends.

Asked where he stood on Biden’s renewed push to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, Manchin deflected.

“There’s a lot of conversations going on about everything right now,” he said.

Tags Barack Obama Charles Schumer Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Manchin
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