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Manchin meets with advocates pushing for $15 minimum wage

Advocates in favor of raising the federal minimum wage met with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster  All eyes on Manchin after COVID-19 aid passes Senate Justice: 'I'm not going to get in a food fight with Joe Manchin' on use of CARES Act funds MORE (D-W.Va.) on Thursday in hopes of convincing the moderate Democrat to reconsider his opposition to a $15 an hour rate.

Manchin, who has signaled support for a smaller minimum wage increase, held the virtual meeting with representatives from groups such as the Poor People’s Campaign and Service Employees International Union.

Rev. William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said a $15 minimum wage shouldn’t be a partisan debate.

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“No politician, Democrat [or] Republican … can say this is a left issue or right issue, a center issue of far left or far right; this is a human issue,” Barber said in a Zoom press call after the meeting. “Particularly with Democrats, though, they ran on it. They put it in their platform. … It would be an ultimate abandonment and betrayal to now get here and have the power to do it and then to retreat.”

The minimum wage increase is one of the most divisive parts of President BidenJoe BidenLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Fauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that is making its way through Congress. The proposal would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25, where it has stood since 2009, to $15 by 2025. 

Manchin and fellow Democratic moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have balked at supporting the wage component of the relief bill, posing a critical challenge for Democrats given their slim tie-breaking advantage in the 50-50 Senate.

“Having grown up in the small coal-mining town of Farmington [W.V.], Senator Manchin understands the challenges facing working West Virginians and small business owners,” Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon, told The Hill in a statement after Thursday's meeting. “He appreciated the opportunity to meet with Bishop Barber and members of the Poor People’s Campaign to discuss the issues most important to them.”

Barber and others on the call pushed back against Manchin's opposition to a $15 an hour wage, arguing the dollar amount was already a compromise in that it still fails to meet current costs of living across the country.

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West Virginia service workers who were on the call with Manchin slammed his remarks after the meeting.

Pam Garrison, who earns the minimum wage and is part of the Poor People’s Campaign state chapter, said Manchin’s responses in the meeting were a “cop out.”

“The minimum wage has never been sufficient to feed my family and to survive on,” Garrison said. “If you've never lived in poverty, you have no idea mentally, physically, emotionally, what it does to you and wears on you.”

While Census Bureau figures show that 34 million people in the U.S. were living in poverty as recently as 2019, a formula used by the Poor People's Campaign puts the figure closer to 140 million.

With millions of workers left unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of Americans living in poverty in 2020 is expected to rise.

Barber indicated that the Poor People's Campaign would be on the ground in several states, including Arizona and West Virginia, to keep the pressure on congressional Democrats to pass the $15 minimum wage.

Whether that provision will be included in the final bill is unclear. The Senate parliamentarian will soon need to rule on whether it meets the requirements under budget reconciliation rules that will allow Democrats to pass the broader package without any GOP support.