Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is a very important man in the year of our lord 2021. He is, as people in Washington, D.C., often joke, essentially serving as President Joe Biden’s prime minister, a man who can single-handedly decide the fates of the president’s appointments for key positions and crucial provisions of the Democratic agenda.
Manchin essentially shares this position with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), with the duo serving as the most conservative and occasionally unpredictable members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. There are many differences between Sinema and Manchin, but the most important one for our purposes is this: Sinema rarely speaks to the press, especially the press outside of her home state. The 74-year-old Manchin, on the other hand, seems to always have something to say to the gaggling crowds of reporters on Capitol Hill.
When Manchin talks, much of what he says is consistent: He’s worried enough about federal debt and deficits that an aide is required to text him every morning about how much the debt has increased in the past 24 hours. He does not share the progressive belief that the government should act to totally phase out fossil fuels. He opposes changes to the Senate’s 60-vote requirement for passing most legislation. He thinks it is better to pass legislation on a bipartisan basis than for the Democratic Party to go it alone.
But how much these different beliefs matter to him can seem to vary from quote to quote, and at times Manchin has seemed to outright contradict himself. Other statements he’s made have been inaccurate or bizarre.
But none of that means those statements aren’t important. Manchin has dictated much of what’s happened so far in the Biden administration – he’s killed one nomination, and is getting his way on the president’s agenda. A bipartisan infrastructure deal he supports is set to be signed into law soon, while he’s managed to aggressively cut down the size of a social and climate spending package. And so here is HuffPost’s tour through the first nine months of Biden’s presidency, in the words and writings of D.C.’s second-most powerful man.
“We’re gonna make Joe Biden successful.” – January 29
Nine days into the Biden presidency, Manchin made a simple statement of support for his party’s president. Democrats took this as evidence the West Virginian would ultimately support the party’s $2 trillion coronavirus pandemic relief package. Manchin would in fact vote for the package in February after forcing a last-minute amendment.
“The most important thing? Do infrastructure. Spend $2, $3, $4 trillion over a 10-year period on infrastructure.” – January 19
Speaking on a West Virginia radio show, Manchin expressed a willingness to spend up to $4 trillion over the next decade on infrastructure. Biden would eventually unveil two packages, one focused on so-called “hard” infrastructure and clean energy generation, the other focused on “human infrastructure” like education and long-term care for the elderly and disabled. The combined cost of the two packages over a decade? Roughly $4.1 trillion.
“Top line: $1.5 trillion.” – July 28
Seven months later, the amount Manchin was willing to spend had dipped. While the West Virginian was negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure package that would eventually spend only $1 trillion over a decade, he presented Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer with a list of conditions for his support of a human infrastructure package, saying the package could only cost $1.5 trillion over a decade.
“Today, the Senate passed our bipartisan legislation to help America compete in the 21st century. This success proves to the nation, and the entire world, that Congress is not broken and when we create compromise together, by reaching across the aisle and forging true relationships, we can accomplish big things.” – August 10
After the Senate passed the bipartisan infrastructure deal in August, attracting the support of 19 Republicans in Congress’ upper chamber, Manchin celebrated the accomplishment, boasting it proves his theory of bipartisan change.
“I’m comfortable with zero.” – October 20
According to Axios, Manchin said this in argument with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, suggesting he was willing to throw away the bipartisan deal he had negotiated and celebrated just two months earlier.
“A VAT tax, basically, for infrastructure might be the only tool.” — February 24
This concept, floated by Manchin but seemingly quickly abandoned, would have meant the United States implementing a type of national sales tax that is common throughout the rest of the world – every other member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has one in place. But a VAT would also be easily caricatured and likely politically deadly. The final version of the infrastructure deal, passed on Friday night, does not contain a VAT.
“Federal Reserve ends quantitative easing.” – July 28
In the same list of conditions Manchin provided to Schumer, he also requested the end of a Federal Reserve program aimed at stimulating the economy that he felt was causing harmful levels of inflation. Schumer, of course, does not have the power to force the Federal Reserve to end quantitative easing, and placing political pressure on the Federal Reserve is frowned upon. (This is an area where the rest of the Democratic Party might have listened to Manchin: His concerns about inflation are shared by the public, and have become a political headache for Biden.)
“If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk, I’m willing to look at any way we can. But I’m not willing to take away the involvement of the minority.” — March 7
Manchin, during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” opened up the door to changing the filibuster rule to require senators to stand and talk on the floor, which many think would force opposition parties to use the obstructionist tactic far less than they do now.
“There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.” — April 7
A month later, Manchin declared in a Washington Post op-ed that he would not actually be open to any changes to the filibuster.
“The filibuster is the only thread we have in America to keep democracy alive and well.” — October 7
This comment is essentially Orwellian: The filibuster is an explicitly and inherently anti-democratic tool, part of an explicitly anti-democratic chamber of Congress. Its purpose is to make it more difficult for the majority to achieve its goals.
“There is also bipartisan support for voting reform and many of the initiatives outlined in the For the People Act.” – April 7
Manchin, in an op-ed where he announced his opposition to this version of Democrats’ sweeping democracy reform legislation, suggested his modified version of the proposal could attract GOP support. Republicans quickly made it clear that was not the case. Democrats have put the proposal up for a vote twice, and it has received zero GOP votes both times.
“You’d do best to change the subject.” — September 29
Manchin’s response to reporter who questioned him about whether an energy company he co-founded – and that his son still owns – constitutes a conflict of interest as he pushed to weaken parts of Biden’s agenda dealing with climate change.
“And all they need to do is … elect more liberals.” – September 30
This was Manchin’s advice to the rest of the Democratic Party when asked about his obstruction of Biden’s plans. It is worth noting, however, that when Democrats tried to elect one of those liberals in 2020 – Sara Gideon in Maine – Manchin instead endorsed incumbent GOP Sen. Susan Collins. (Collins did not endorse Manchin when he ran for reelection in 2018.)
“I can’t control rumors, and it’s bullshit, bullshit spelled with a B, U, L, L, capital B.” — October 21
Manchin’s response to a report in the liberal magazine Mother Jones that he had developed a plan to leave the Democratic Party if necessary.
“I have told the president, Chuck Schumer, and even the whole caucus that if it is ’embarrassing’ to them to have a moderate, centrist Democrat in the mix and if it would help them publicly, I could become an independent.” – October 21
Manchin’s explanation to The Hill, later that same day, confirming he had offered to leave the party if leading Democrats thought it was best.
“This is not a center-left or a left country. We are a center — if anything, a little center-right country.” – November 4
Manchin, interpreting the results of Tuesday night’s Democratic defeat in Virginia during a CNN appearance, made a sweeping statement about the political nature of the country. You can quibble over the accuracy: Manchin would likely cite polling showing more Americans identity as conservative than as liberal, while the other side would note that Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential elections. But this is also simply a statement of the world view of a 74-year-old man who first ran for statewide office in 1996, when moderate Democrats were at their zenith.
“I believe government should be your best partner, but it shouldn’t be your provider. We have a moral obligation to provide for those who have incapacities, such as physical or mental. But everyone else should be able to help and chip in, so that’s my mindset.” – October 30
If the prior quote explains Manchin’s political worldview, this one explains his policy worldview. While other Democrats are eager to make programs universal, Manchin seeks to limit their reach to help only the people he sees as the neediest.
“I will not negotiate in public.” – November 1
Manchin, on Monday, at the end of a seven-minute speech where he laid out his latest demands for passage of Biden’s agenda.