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'Manchinations' the center of attention on Capitol Hill

'Manchinations' the center of attention on Capitol Hill


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It is possible that you may have seen a huge nebula full of photographers and reporters traversing the corridors in Hart SenateOffice Building. Perhaps the media cluster at the bank of six elevators, just below the Senate floor. 

They weren’t there for Paris Hilton – although Paris Hilton in fact appeared at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday to push for legislation to curb teen abuse. 

Hilton would be able to command the same attention as Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in Congress halls.


Capitol Hill has become accustomed to the prodigious media blobs around Manchin. Every time Manchin makes some machinations – or perhaps, “Manchinations” – practically every reporter inside the Northern Temperate Zone descends on the West Virginia Democrat. 

When reporters talk to Manchin about the social spending bill, there’s a lot of chatter about making progress. It is important to work in good faith. Working for the advancement of the cause. Reporters who cover Manchin have heard those bromides for months as Democrats try to advance their $3.5 trillion – scratch that – $1.5 trillion – scratch that – $1.9 to $2.2 trillion – scratch that – $1.75 trillion social spending package. 

After all, it’s Manchin who mostly directed the changes. 

And on Wednesday afternoon, everyone wanted to know if Manchin may actually leave the Democratic Party if his colleagues didn’t accept his demands of a package capped at $1.75 trillion. 

David Corn wrote in Mother Jones that Manchin was involved in a possible departure from the Democratic Party. He also created a new party affiliation called “An American Independent”. 

“American Independent” is neither fish nor fowl in the nation’s political system. After losing the Democratic primary in 2006 to Ned Lamont, this sounds almost exactly like Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman regarded himself as an “independent Democrat”, and continued his association with the Democratic Party. Lieberman was still elected to the second term. 

Reporters dogged Manchin after Corn’s story hit the web. Manchin quickly denied that the story was true. 

 Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks at a press conference outside his office on Capitol Hill on Oct. 6.


“I’m not in charge of rumors and it’s bulls—,” proclaimed Manchin. “Find out who’s saying that kind of crazy stuff.” 

Manchin’s faced questions about his party affiliation before. Bret Baier, a Fox colleague, asked the following question on July 1. 

“What does it take to get Joe Manchin to change parties?” 

“If switching a party where they have a D by your name, an R by your name, changes who you are as a person, then you’re in the wrong profession,” replied Manchin. ” “I guess you could put me where you want. But having the D or an R by my name or changing from one to another, I’ve never considered that.” 

Mother Jones’ story suggests the contrary, revealing a detailed plan of Manchin’s exit strategy. 

Corn reports that Manchin would first tell Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., he was leaving his lower-tier leadership post as vice chair of the Senate Democrats’ policy and communications committee. If that shot across the bow didn’t score Manchin what he wanted with the social spending bill, Corn reported, Manchin would abandon the Democrats and become an independent. 

This is not the first time Manchin’s been caught up in some Machiavellian wheeling and dealing. Politico first reported this story a few weeks back. Fox then obtained a letter signed by Schumer and Manchin over the summer. In the missive, Manchin indicated he wanted a Senate debate on the social spending bill to start by Oct. 1 and pledged he wouldn’t agree to spending more than $1.5 trillion. 

Strange was the summertime letter. It’s even more bizarre to see the two-step approach for leaving the party. It all revolves around Manchin. Democrats can’t pass the social spending bill without Manchin. In fact, Democrats wouldn’t even have nominal control of the 50-50 Senate without Manchin. Manchin has a lot of power. 

That’s probably why these peculiar stories keep popping up about Manchin. 

Manchin is a formidable opponent among progressives. Liberals regard Manchin to be a block in their pursuit of legislative goals. They also stew over the fact that if Congress ever approves a social spending plan, it will likely be something that matches Manchin’s vision and not theirs. Manchin is a powerful figure, and they wonder why. It’s simple. It’s about the math. Democrats must have Manchin. If not, they’re toast. 

Manchin can dictate the terms of any bill to the left. The alternative is that Democrats do not have a social spending bill. The worst part is losing the Senate majority. 

However, despite Manchin’s denials is it also indicative of Manchin exercising his muscle and reminding everyone about his leverage heading into the last round of negotiations. 

Just as the Senate was about take a procedural voting vote in an attempt to end a filibuster over a voting rights bill, Wednesday’s Mother Jones article appeared. Manchin promised to support the bill after talks this summer. For Democrats to end filibuster, they needed 60 yeas. So even having all 50 Democrats in favor didn’t advance the cause. Progressives had another chance to rail against Sen. Kyrsten Synema, D. Arizona, and Manchin. Left wants them to compromise on the Senate filibuster. Perhaps they will agree to a carve-out that would allow voting rights legislation. The debt ceiling. Firearms. 

Manchin, Sinema – and frankly, a few other Democratic senators – won’t budge on the filibuster. But Wednesday’s failed procedural vote was another step in a long pressure campaign to update the filibuster. 

“The question before the Senate is how we will find a path forward on protecting our freedoms in the 21st century,” said Schumer. In the United States Senate, “The battle to defend democracy isn’t over.” Senate Democrats are clear: voting rights does not relate to other issues that we discuss in this room. 

 Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to reporters outside of his office on Capitol Hill on Oct. 6.


Schumer noted he’d tee up another procedural vote on another voting rights bill, named after the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., next week,

However, regardless of political motivations behind the Mother Jones story the report sparked yet another day for reporters to chase Manchin around Capitol Hill. 

Talk of a Manchin departure may have rattled liberal Democrats who, some feel, were too pushy towards the West Virginia Democrat. Notice the protestors who followed Sinema in a public restroom just a few short weeks ago. Rebukes were only elicited by left-leaning activists who demanded that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer resign. 

Manchin could have resigned from the Democratic Party affiliation. Could lose control of the 50-50 Senate. In the liberal Democratic Party, Manchin continues to defy gravity. 51-49 Republicans take control of the Senate if Manchin defected to the GOP. Stewardship of the Senate hasn’t switched parties in the middle of a Congress since 2001. This was the last 50-50 Senate. The tiebreaking vote of Vice-President Dick Cheney made Republicans the majority of Congress in that year. The late Senator Jim Jeffords from Vermont resigned as a Republican and became an Independent in spring. Jeffords did however agree to join the Democrats’ caucus. This gave Democrats a 51 to 49 advantage. 

Manchin could continue to caucus alongside the Democrats even if he decided not to be affiliated with any party. That wouldn’t alter control of the Senate. Even so, Democrats have two independents that caucus alongside them: Senators. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Angus King (I-Maine). 

On Wednesday morning Manchin reaffirmed what might have sparked the Mother Jones story. Manchin said he told his Democratic colleagues that if he was “an embarrassment” to them, the president or Schumer by “being a moderate centrist” he’d “switch to be an independent.” But Manchin said he’d “still be caucusing with Democrats.” 


So memo to the left: Manchin isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

It also means the bubble of reporters and photographers that seemingly follows Manchin everywhere won’t dissipate either.

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