Manchin eyes Senate exit

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws MORE (D-W.Va.) is eyeing a possible exit from the Senate, and his decision could be a significant factor in which party controls the majority in 2021.

In moments of frustration, the centrist senator has gone so far as to tell colleagues he may leave the upper chamber before the end of this Congress, or after the 2020 elections.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (N.Y.) keeps a close watch on Manchin, and the senators have a good working relationship. While Schumer recognizes that his West Virginia colleague can get exasperated by dysfunction in the Senate, he believes Manchin is content and engaged in his job.

But Manchin says he’s deeply irritated with the lack of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill, where passing bills has largely become an afterthought in the 116th Congress.

Manchin noted supporters in West Virginia are pressing him to run for governor next year, and he’s considering it.

“I have people back home that want me to come back and run for governor. We’re looking at all the different plays. I want to make sure whatever time I have left in public service is productive,” he told The Hill.

Asked if he’s happy with how productive he is in the Senate, Manchin replied, “Not at all.”

“I haven’t been happy since I’ve been here. I’ve always thought there was more we can do. It’s the greatest body in the world, so much good could be done,” he said of the legislative stalemate.

Manchin, 71, compiled a successful record as governor from 2005 to 2010. He was reelected to a second term in 2008 but left before finishing his term after winning election to the Senate seat long held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Manchin often talks about his fondness for his time as governor. He doesn’t think his current Senate job is nearly as fulfilling. The Senate has spent most of 2019 churning through President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE’s judicial and executive branch nominees, rarely voting on bills that have a chance to become law.

Schumer has accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump faces crucial decisions on economy, guns Are Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' MORE (R-Ky.) of turning the Senate into a “legislative graveyard,” while Republicans bash Schumer for delaying nominees that some Democrats eventually support when they finally come up for a vote.

Manchin’s patience reached a breaking point shortly before the Memorial Day recess, when the Senate finally finished debating a disaster relief bill that many lawmakers thought should have passed weeks earlier.

A Democratic senator who requested anonymity recalled Manchin getting thoroughly fed up and threatening to retire before the end of the 116th Congress.

“He said, ‘I’m out of here.’ He was all pissed off and said, ‘I’m going to be out of here,’ ” the lawmaker said.

Schumer was spotted talking to Manchin soon after he vented his frustration to colleagues, but it’s unclear what they discussed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats control 47 seats and need to capture a net of four Republican-held seats — or three if they also win the White House — to regain the majority. That task is made harder by the fact that Sen. Doug Jones (D) faces a tough reelection in Alabama, which Trump won with 62 percent of the vote in 2016.

If Democrats lose West Virginia in 2020 or 2022, their quest for the majority becomes even tougher.

Manchin continued to vent about the Senate’s lack of productivity during a trip he took with Senate colleagues to countries around the Arctic Circle, including Greenland, a Norwegian archipelago, Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

“I think he’s been fed up for a long time,” said a senator who traveled with Manchin. “He said, ‘I have so many people talking to me about whether I should or I shouldn’t [run for governor].’ ”

“One of the things you get as a lawmaker is you get lots of free advice from lots of people. He expressed frustration, and it’s the same that a lot of people share,” said the lawmaker, who spoke on background.

A third Senate colleague who has spoken to Manchin about his future in the Senate said, “All he says is, ‘I’ll be here until 2020.’ ”

Senate Democrats hope Manchin stays in Washington, even though they know he’s tempted by another stint as governor.

“He had a helicopter and an airplane and all that stuff when he was governor. That’s not this job. This job is different from that,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (D-Mont.), who also represents a

Republican-leaning state and called Manchin “a good friend.”

“When things get tough, you don’t quit. You double down and keep going. I think Joe’s that kind of guy,” he said. 

If Manchin runs for governor in 2020, it could make it hard for Democrats to keep his Senate seat. Trump won West Virginia by 42 points in 2016.

Manchin narrowly won his 2018 reelection race against state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. That contest, Manchin said earlier this year, “took a toll” on him.

A Democratic strategist and former senior Senate aide said Manchin is the only candidate who can keep the seat in Democratic hands.

The strategist said if Manchin doesn’t keep the seat, the chance of another Democrat winning a Senate race in the Mountain State is “less than zero.”

Manchin could run for governor next year as a sitting senator and keep his seat if he loses.

There’s no guarantee Manchin would stay in the Senate if he loses the governor’s race, but he may be inclined to stick around if Democrats have a chance to win the majority, which would make him the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

If he triumphs, Manchin could possibly appoint a fellow Democrat to replace him in the Senate, though it’s not a sure thing, according to West Virginia’s secretary of state’s office.

If Manchin resigns his Senate seat following the certification of the election but before he takes the gubernatorial oath of office, then the current Republican governor, Jim Justice, will appoint his successor.

Should Manchin resign his Senate seat just before taking the oath of office, then he could appoint his own successor as long as he does so before the notice of resignation reaches Justice’s office.

In the age of Twitter, who gets to appoint the next senator from West Virginia could wind up being like a jump-ball question on “Jeopardy!”: The person who can click the button first wins.

“The gray area is when the vacancy occurs,” said Erin Timony, assistant communications director at the secretary of state’s office.

The Democratic strategist said Manchin is one of the few Senate Democrats who has options to serve in another capacity.

“The part that senators like Manchin who used to be executives, in particular, struggle with is the fact that literally nothing gets done. Everybody knows the outcome before the votes even happen. There is no real desire to move legislation or solve problems, it’s all about politics, posturing and positioning,” the strategist said.

“The reality is most of the other senators don’t have other options. They can’t go be governors. I guess they can join the pool of candidates running for president,” the source added.