Senate

Manchin insists he hasn’t threatened to leave Democrats

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) asks questions of nominee to be Director of the National Park Service Charles Sams III during his a nomination hearing on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.
Greg Nash

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in an exclusive interview with The Hill on Thursday said he has no plans to leave the Democratic Party and has not threatened to do so.

“What he reported is simply untrue,” Manchin told The Hill in response to questions about a story in Mother Jones this week that said he was considering leaving the Democratic Party if President Biden and Senate Democrats did not agree to slash the social spending bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion. 

“I’m not threatening to leave. Why would I? I’m very secure in my positions and honestly, I’m not the one stressed out,” Manchin said.

Manchin said he had told Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his caucus that if it would help them “publicly” for him to become an Independent who still caucuses with the party, as they face pressure from activists to craft a bill as large as possible, he was willing to do so.

“What is true,” Manchin told The Hill, “is that I have told the president, Chuck Schumer, and even the whole caucus that if it is ‘embarrassing’ to them to have a moderate, centrist Democrat in the mix and if it would help them publicly, I could become an Independent — like Bernie — and then they could explain some of this to the public saying it’s complicated to corral these two Independents, Bernie and me.” 

Manchin characterized his offer as an effort that would help Biden and Schumer better explain the different perspectives in their caucus to Democrats.

Two Independents, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King, now caucus with the Senate’s 48 Democrats, which is what gives them a majority along with Vice President Harris, who casts the tie-breaking vote. 

Those two senators are both to the left of Manchin politically. Sanders has twice run for the Democratic presidential nomination and is a recognized leader of progressives in Washington who is now involved in talks with Manchin on the spending package. King has backed the larger social spending package but is seen as more of a centrist compared to Sanders.

Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have been the main outlying Democrats in the Senate as progressives and centrists in the party battle over the size and contents of Biden’s economic agenda. 

Biden is now pursuing a package in the range of $2 trillion given opposition from the two centrists to a larger package. The slimmed-down proposal is also expected to not include some provisions that had been advanced by much of the party, including free community college and a clean electricity program. 

In the interview, Manchin downplayed the tenor of battles over the package within the caucus, saying that while negotiations have been tough, the mood has been good and that the process is working as it should. He repeatedly rejected the idea that he has been conducting a complex ploy to hold the party hostage to his views.

On Wednesday, Manchin reacted with annoyance to reports he might leave his party.

“It’s bullshit,” Manchin said when asked about the Mother Jones report that he has told “associates” he is actively thinking about leaving the Democratic Party. 

“I have no control of rumors, guys. No control of rumors,” Manchin insisted after walking out of a lunch meeting with fellow Democratic committee chairs just off the Senate floor.

If a senator who caucuses with Democrats did leave to caucus with the GOP, it would immediately make Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the majority leader and give control of the body to Republicans. 

Manchin has previously said that McConnell has tried to get him to switch to the GOP “many times.” He said it could never happen because of where he stands on taxes and health care.

Tags Angus King Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Filibuster Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell West Virginia

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