GOP steps up flirtation with Manchin

Republicans are flirting with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as he faces backlash from his own party over his opposition to Build Back Better. 

GOP senators, most of whom are friendly with Manchin, are making it clear they would welcome him into their caucus, where they think he would be a good fit given West Virginia’s deep-red political leanings. 

Manchin has given no indication that he would flip, but Republicans know if they can successfully woo him, it would hand them a narrow Senate majority and be a significant stumbling block for President Biden’s agenda. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is leading a public blitz to make sure Manchin knows that he has a home in the Senate GOP caucus, if he wants one. 

“He feels like a man alone. If he were to join us he would be joining a lot of folks who have similar views on a whole range of issues,” McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this week.

Leaning into the discussion, McConnell’s staff blasted out the GOP leader’s comments to The New York Times, where he had said that Republicans “would love to have him on our team.” 

McConnell is hardly alone. 

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), during an interview with Fox News, said that Republicans would “welcome him with open arms,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said at a conservative conference this week that he had recently pitched Manchin on switching parties, telling him that, “Look, one of the two parties actually likes you.” 

“I hope he does. I’ve asked him to. I think every Republican senator has made that case to Joe,” Cruz said, while acknowledging that switching parties could be a “tough hill to climb” for Manchin, who has decades-long ties to the Democratic Party. 

Some have downplayed the push by Republicans, dismissing the efforts partly as a tried and true strategy to drive a wedge between Democrats and create confusion in the media.

“Just as spring comes in April, inevitably the Republican calls for Joe Manchin to switch parties is seasonal,” Democratic strategist Mike Plante said.

But other strategists have called on Democrats to exercise caution as Manchin has fielded heat from his colleagues and the White House in recent days over his resistance to Biden’s signature social spending plan.

“The only reason why Democrats have the majority is because of this guy,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and longtime aide who worked for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“But, still, I would urge folks to be a little bit careful here,” he added.

Republicans say they think Manchin is increasingly a fish out of water in the Democratic Party, where progressives are ascendant and the number of moderates is shrinking.

“I think Manchin is discovering is there just aren’t any Democrats left in the Senate that are pro-life, terribly concerned about debt, deficit and inflation,” McConnell told Hewitt. 

His comments come as intraparty fighting among Democrats have reached a boiling point in recent days after Manchin, a key centrist holdout, again pumped the brakes on the party’s efforts to quickly pass its sweeping trillion-dollar package in the upper chamber.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” he said recently on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is a ‘no’ on this legislation.”

Manchin, who for months has been targeted by progressives for his reluctance to sign on to the plan, also swiped at some of his party colleagues in another statement, accusing them of being “determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country.”

The remarks prompted a sharp response from the White House and a criticism from a number of Democrats.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close McConnell ally, said he texted Manchin on Tuesday, “Joe if they don’t want you we do.”

“We’d love to have him. That would change the majority,” Cornyn told KXAN, a Austin-based TV station owned by Nexstar Media Group, which also owns The Hill. 

Cornyn later gave a public update on his outreach on Manchin, saying that “Joe said: Thanks John.”

Manchin, the most conservative member of his caucus, has given no indication that he would change his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. 

Asked during a radio interview this week with West Virginia MetroNews’s Hoppy Kercheval about being a member of the Democratic Party, Manchin indicated that he still believes there is room for him. 

“I would like to hope that there are still Democrats that feel like I do. I say I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. Now if there are no Democrats like that, they’ll have to push me wherever they want to,” Manchin said. 

Manchin previously told The Hill that he did not intend to leave the Democratic Party, but that he had told his colleagues that if it was “embarrassing” for them for him to be a Democrat that he would switch his party affiliation to Independent. 

It wouldn’t be the first time a senator switched parties. Over the past two decades, at least three senators have made the jump, including former Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), a former Republican who became an Independent in 2001. He caucused with Democrats, flipping control of the chamber from Republicans.

A significant hurdle to the GOP’s efforts to convince Manchin to change sides is that in the Democratic majority he wields the Energy and Natural Resources gavel, giving him considerable sway over issues important to his home state. 

Switching parties would put him at risk of losing the top spot. McConnell, asked during the Hewitt interview if Manchin could hold onto his gavel if he flipped parties, made no commitments but said that “all of those things are things we would discuss.” 

Some Republicans say why not give Manchin a gavel if that’s what it would take.

“I mean, it wouldn’t bother me as a conservative Republican to have him in charge of that committee,” said Scott Jennings, a former McConnell campaign aide and founding partner of RunSwitch Public Relations. 

“That’s a small price to pay to get Republicans in control of the chamber,” he said, adding that Manchin, who supports the coal industry, has “views on energy [that] line up with the Republicans.”

Tags Build Back Better Harry Reid Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz Tom Cotton
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