Manchin says he never seriously considered joining Senate GOP caucus
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on Thursday that he never seriously considered switching parties, describing it as a joke between himself and GOP senators.
Manchin’s comments come after New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns reported in a forthcoming book that Manchin told Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, that he would switch parties if Thune was leader.
But Manchin, on Thursday, downplayed the comment, saying that Republican senators, many of whom he is close with, frequently rib him on joining the GOP caucus. Manchin could join either as an Independent or as a Republican, and in a 50-50 Senate that would be enough to give Republicans control of the chamber and make Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) the majority leader.
“They are always kidding back and forth. They would love for me — I said, ‘Guys listen, I am who I am, I’m a West Virginia Democrat,’” Manchin said, asked if he had told Thune that he would switch parties if the South Dakota Republican was GOP leader.
In their book “This Shall Not Pass,” a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, Martin and Burns report Thune pitched Manchin on the idea of not formally joining the GOP, but instead becoming and independent and caucusing with Republicans.
Manchin said that he couldn’t recall telling Thune that he would switch parties if the GOP senator become leader, but did acknowledge that he gets dinner with Thune and other GOP senators.
“I get that question every day. These are all my friends… John Thune is a most decent human being and a good friend of mine. But no,” Manchin said on Thursday asked if he had told Thune that.
“If people want to read into whatever conversations we have, they can read into it. But they all know who I am,” Manchin added.
Thune is currently McConnell’s No. 2. He’s one of three Republican senators, in addition to Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), who want to succeed McConnell if he were to retire or step down as GOP leader.
McConnell has said he will run for GOP leader for the next Congress starting in January and has given no hint about when or if he would step down from the top spot or the Senate altogether.
Questions about if Manchin would switch parties have swirled around for months, driven by his status as the most conservative Democrat and high-profile breaks with other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus and President Biden.
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.
Thune, asked about the conversation reported by The Times, said that he had taken it as a joke “in the good humor it was intended” and the “banter back and forth that we have.”
“We have lots of conversations. I’m always on a regular basis trying to persuade him that he needs to come to the other side. A lot of those are obviously light spirited conversations,” Thune said.
“I don’t think… he’s ever given serious consideration to doing that,” Thune added, while acknowledging that Republicans make “overtures on a regular basis.”
This story was updated at 1:03 p.m.