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McConnell openly courts Manchin to leave Democrats, join the GOP

Joe Manchin speaks outdoors to reporters
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is being courted by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to switch parties after his much-publicized rejection of President Biden’s social spending plan.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
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Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is putting his party’s courtship of Joe Manchin III on full public display after the West Virginia Democrat’s fractious split with the White House over the president’s social and environmental investment package.

McConnell says Manchin “feels like a man alone,” and if he were to switch parties “he would be joining a lot of folks who have similar views on a whole range of issues.”

Whether the West Virginia senator is open to McConnell’s appeal — he has consistently said he still sees himself as a Democrat — is uncertain. But if he were to switch it would fundamentally alter the balance of power in Washington, as well as seriously threaten President Biden’s legislative prospects.

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McConnell dangled the prospect of Manchin retaining his prized Energy Committee chairmanship during an interview Wednesday and played up the West Virginian’s growing distance from Democrats in his opposition to Biden’s package.

A flip by Manchin would give Republicans control of the Senate and effectively end any chance of Democrats being able to get legislation or nominations through on party-line votes.

The rift escalated after Manchin said over the weekend that he couldn’t vote for the social spending package that Democrats have pitched as their top domestic priority going into next year’s elections.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

That prompted a sharply worded response from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who said Manchin had “in person” given Biden a written proposal that was “the same size and scope” as a framework for the bill that Democrats rallied behind in October — and that he had agreed to continue talks.

“We will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” Psaki said.

The White House had basically called Manchin “a liar,” McConnell said in a radio appearance on the “Hugh Hewitt Show.”

“It was astonishing. Usually when you’ve got a member who is a little bit out of sync with everybody else, you give them a lot of love. They did exactly the opposite,” McConnell said.

He said he’s had conversations over the years with Manchin about his party affiliation.

One potential obstacle to a party switch would be Manchin’s vote in February in favor of the impeachment of former President Trump for his actions related to the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. West Virginia voted for Trump in 2020 by more than 2 to 1, and Trump has called for defeating Republicans who voted for impeachment — a group including House members and several senators.

But Manchin, the only Democrat in his state’s congressional delegation, is popular back home. He was twice elected governor before his election to the Senate in 2010. He’ll be up for reelection in 2024 should he decide to seek another term.

West Virginia is still coal country, and Manchin is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. If he were to switch parties, McConnell and the Republicans could choose a new chairman.

“That’s something we have talked to him about,” McConnell said. “Obviously, I’m sure he enjoyed being a chair of the committee. It’s important to West Virginia, and all of those things are things we have discussed.”

McConnell also addressed questions about Manchin in an interview late Wednesday on Fox News, saying he admired Manchin’s stand on the social spending package.

“I think they will keep coming back to him. I’ve suggested a good solution to his problem would be to come across the aisle and join us where he would be treated with respect,” McConnell said.

Manchin has long faced questions about his place in the Democratic Party, and the talk took on fresh urgency in October when a Mother Jones article said he had been telling associates he was seriously considering leaving the party. But six days after the article was published, while sitting down with the Economic Club in Washington, Manchin rejected the reports, saying “I don’t think the Rs would be any happier with me than Ds are right now.”

He added, “So I don’t know where in the hell I belong.”

The question has been posed to him repeatedly in the last few weeks, coming to a breaking point Monday morning, hours after he had publicly voiced his opposition to Biden’s bill.

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

Party switching in the Senate is rare but has been consequential. Republicans lost control of the Senate two decades ago when James Jeffords of Vermont quit the party to become an independent. Jeffords, upset with President George W. Bush’s opposition to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, declared in May 2001 that he would leave and caucus with the Democrats.

McConnell said Jeffords had “become very uncomfortable on our side.” He said Republican lawmakers courted him “because we were always fearful he would do exactly what he ended up doing. So, no, I mean, we certainly didn’t do anything like the White House did to Joe Manchin the other day.”

While all this swirls, Biden is making clear that he believes he can still reach an agreement with the West Virginian on a social spending package.

“Sen. Manchin and I are going to get something done,” Biden declared at the White House on Tuesday.


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