Lauren Lucy Caddell, '23
Often cited as the most conservative Democrat in the US Senate, West Virginia representative Joe Manchin calls himself a moderate centrist Democrat. As a moderate, he heavily supports bipartisanship, or input and compromise between members of both parties to pass legislation. Manchin is one of the most influential members of the current Congress given his role as a swing vote amid a narrow Democratic majority. He shares his opinions willingly and often coarsely. After being questioned about rumors of possible plans to leave the Democratic Party, for example, Manchin responded, “I can’t control rumors… Me being a [Democrat] – if that causes you a problem, let me know and I’d switch to be independent.”
Manchin’s political career includes a five-year tenure as West Virginia’s governor from 2005 to 2010 as well as his time in the Senate, which began with his election in 2010. He works closely with Republicans on issues such as abortion and gun ownership, opposes the Green New Deal, voted against government funding for Planned Parenthood in 2015 and then supported it in 2017, and supported Trump’s immigration policies during his presidency. Yet Manchin also voted against the removal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as well as tax cuts. He voted to impeach Trump twice and has advocated for background checks before guns may be purchased. Despite his alignment with the Democratic Party, he is often seen as a unifying force within his state, having won re-election most recently in 2018 even as he was criticized by Trump, who won West Virginia by more than forty points in 2016.
Perhaps Manchin’s most significant role is that of the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the Senate. West Virginia’s economy has a history of heavy dependence on coal, and a complete transition to clean energy would hit the state hard. Manchin also has strong family ties to the coal industry and supports the long-standing traditions of his state in most cases regarding environmental protection. However, Manchin has also attempted to bridge the warring interests of his party and his state, such as his role in the 2011 Fair Compliance Act, which reduced short-term pressure on energy firms to reduce fossil fuel output but was also designed to help industry reduce its carbon footprint over time without damaging its economic status. By opposing a bill presented by his party, Manchin proved his willingness to represent his constituents.
Both Manchin and his fellow moderate Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have a history of voting against ambitious, progressive bills such as President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan currently being debated in Congress, which addresses the expansion of healthcare, childcare, and green energy. Although both senators have admitted that these issues deserve to be addressed, they argue that the problem of money comes first. America’s debt is an extremely pressing issue, the Senators argue, and even with raising taxes $3.5 trillion is a nearly incomprehensible sum. “What’s the urgency?” Manchin asks about the Biden proposal, “A lot of the help we’ve put out there is still there and it’s going to run clear until next year.” Manchin uses the example of the American Rescue Plan, the emergency COVID relief bill that allocated some $1 trillion into rebuilding an American economy damaged in the pandemic.
For major bills such as the infrastructure plan, every Democrat vote is needed to pass, and therefore the demands of moderates such as Manchin must be met. In this circumstance, Manchin placed a cap at $1.5 dollars when it came to supporting the bill, so Democrats reverted to further negotiations instead of placing the bill on the table for the full Senate where it would likely have failed. It is in this way that Manchin keeps Democrats in check while also forming compromises with Republicans to hasten the approval process for the legislature.
Not only is Manchin a breath of fresh air in a political setting currently filled with division, the Senate needs representatives like Manchin. One of the reasons the Senate is able to pass the legislature and move forward is due to Manchin and his willingness to question bills proposed by either party. Although we may not agree with all of Manchin’s views, he must be respected for knowing what he wants and finding a way to get it.
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