Trump makes Manchin top target for midterms

Trump makes Manchin top target for midterms
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE is making Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE (D-W.Va.) a top target this fall, underlining his drive to protect the GOP’s Senate majority even it if means going after a relatively friendly Democrat.

Trump told Republican senators in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that he plans to spend significant time campaigning against Manchin, who represents a state won by the president over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMark Cuban says he's decided not to run for president Trump official criticizes ex-Clinton spokesman over defunding police tweet Poll: Biden leads Trump, Cunningham neck and neck with Tillis in North Carolina MORE by 42 points.

One GOP senator said Trump promised to visit the state “several times.”

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The president touted his popularity in Manchin’s state, even joking about moving there if he loses reelection in 2020.


And he suggested he’s tired of Manchin opposing him on policy.

Trump waved off Manchin’s efforts to portray himself as a centrist willing to work with the president as little more than an acting job, complaining that Manchin “hugs and kisses me and then votes the other way,” according to a senator who attended the meeting.

The message to GOP senators dovetailed with Trump’s public remarks at a rally in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., last month.

“He voted against everything. He voted against tax cuts,” Trump told the crowd.

Manchin has been careful to cultivate the image of his relationship with Trump.

“The president is always welcome to my state,” Manchin told The Hill on Wednesday. “We still talk and everything.

“This is not personal,” he added. “I’m the person who keeps him bipartisan and sooner or later they’re going to have to look at that.

“I would say to him, ‘Mr. President, an awful lot of West Virginia Democrats voted for you and they continue to support me very vigorously.’ ”

Manchin has voted for more of Trump’s Cabinet nominees than any other Senate Democrat, and last year tweeted and then deleted a picture of him giving a thumbs-up alongside a smiling Trump at the White House.

The snapshot was posted a day after Manchin voted against Trump’s signature tax-cut proposal in what appeared to be a message to constituents that he and the president were still allies. 

But that vote against the tax bill accelerated the unraveling of his relationship with Trump.

A month later, Vice President Pence slammed Manchin during a visit to West Virginia as someone who talked a good game but opposed the White House on major issues.

Manchin said Pence’s attack was “exactly why Washington sucks.”

An aide to Manchin said his boss has voted with the president “62 percent of the time.”

And Manchin said he and Trump can be political allies because they both enjoy strong support in the Mountain State.

Manchin, who is fully aware of how popular Trump is in his state, acknowledged Wednesday that the president badly wanted his vote to repeal and replace ObamaCare but noted that he was upfront in telling the president that the GOP health-care plan was a non-starter.

“I told him there’s no way. If I saw we couldn’t fix it and we had a better plan waiting … I would do it,” he said. 

On the tax bill, Manchin sat down with Trump and other Senate centrists in September to talk about the possibility of passing a bipartisan tax-reform package.

Over a dinner also attended by other centrist Democrats, Manchin said he told the president he couldn’t vote for legislation that would be a tax cut for the rich.

“He looked at me and said, ‘This is not going to be a tax cut for the rich and wealthy like me, it’s going to be for the working person.’ I said, ‘Mr. President, if you go down that path, you got me every time,’ ” he explained.

Manchin said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTwitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America MORE (R-Wis.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Former Texas Rep. Sam Johnson dies at 89 MORE (R-Texas) later drafted a tax-reform bill that was very different from what Trump talked about at dinner. 

Manchin voted for some of Trump’s most controversial nominees, such as Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Rosenstein defends Mueller appointment, role on surveillance warrants MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO's Michelle McMurry-Heath says 400 projects started in 16 weeks in biotech firms to fight virus, pandemic unemployment total tops 43 million IRS faces obstacles with remaining stimulus checks On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility MORE.

He was also the first Democrat to announce his support for Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to head the CIA.

Manchin is expected to face a tight reelection race against West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who won the GOP nomination in last week’s primary.

In a poll released over the weekend by WPA Intelligence, a Republican firm, Morrisey led Manchin by 2 points.

Trump has other Senate Democratic targets.

At the Tuesday lunch with Senate Republicans, Trump also singled out Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.) as another vulnerable incumbent whom Republicans have a good chance of defeating in the fall.

GOP senators, who are nervous about their prospects of keeping their majority, think Trump can provide huge assistance in rallying voters in Senate swing states.

“President Trump would get residency in West Virginia if he could and so I think it will have a major impact,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate advances conservation fund bill, House introduces companion John Hickenlooper defies subpoena to appear for virtual hearing on ethics complaint Senate Republicans urge Trump to tone down rhetoric on protests MORE (Colo.).

The president joked that he is so popular in West Virginia that he might move there if he loses reelection.

That quip prompted one GOP senator in the room to pipe up and say the president better hope he doesn’t lose reelection, a joking reference to West Virginia’s status as the most unhappy state in the country, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

West Virginia’s Republican senator, Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP shifting on unemployment benefits as jobless numbers swell Senate Republicans urge Trump to tone down rhetoric on protests Trump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators MORE, says economic conditions in her state have improved dramatically.

“You have to look at where we were before President Trump came in and where we are now. We’ve got one of the fastest growing economies, our unemployment is down, our construction jobs are up more than any place in the country,” she said.

“The president’s policies have played into that,” she added.