Is Joe Manchin Switching Parties?
It wasn't Senator Manchin's message on Biden's "Build Back Broke" spending boondoggle that's noteworthy. That was no surprise. It was the way he delivered the message. The stage is set.
Democrats are melting down Chernobyl-style this weekend after US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) declared an end to negotiations over Biden’s “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation bill.
No one should be surprised. The bill was strewn with political paybacks, pork, and budget gimmicks that would have made Jeffrey Epstein blush. A massive tax cut for wealthy homeowners in high tax states. Tax subsidies for the news media and trial lawyers. Billions for “tree equity” in reliably Democratic urban enclaves. Billions more for electric charging stations installed based on “equity,” likely where residents can’t afford or don’t own electric vehicles. A federal government takeover of pre-kindergarten child care, coupled with generous child tax credits whether you work or not. Luxurious tax credits for electric vehicles based on whether they were union-made. Chevy Bolts and Nissan Leafs would qualify. Non-Union Teslas, not so much. Elon Musk predictably opposed the bill.
And don’t forget hosing down the economy with trillions more dollars with inflation hitting 40-year highs.
Democrats tried mightily to add a massive immigration amnesty provision that would never pass muster with Senate budget and reconciliation rules.
The real killer, in my opinion, was this: How US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, asked the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to “score” the bill over ten years. Why? Because no one expects new entitlement programs to end in 3 or 5 years. Name one that has over the past five decades—the cost: over $5 trillion. In reality, it would have been even more. Fortunately, we may never know.
But what interested me was not Manchin’s predictable knife blow to the bill’s prospects nor the Democratic meltdown that ensued. Manchin delivered the blow before a national audience on a GOP-friendly network, Fox News, just a couple of days after Congress adjourned for the year. Coupled with poll numbers in his native West Virginia - a deeply red state - showing strong support for Manchin’s position, Senator Manchin may be preparing to begin the new year as a newly minted Republican. Or at least an independent Senator who caucuses with Republicans, as Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) now caucus with Democrats.
If I were a US Senator on the opposing end of his party’s major legislation, I would not go on national television to cut the cord. I might issue a statement. I would certainly make phone calls to the President and certain colleagues on my decision. I would not go on national television and launch a salvo unless I had something else in mind.
Manchin so much as challenged Democrats to drive him out of their party.
Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) on Monday dared Democrats to push him out of the party if they are unhappy with his views, one day after he announced he will not support President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, effectively killing the bill.
Asked on Hoppy Kercheval’s West Virginia radio show if he believes there is still a place for him in the Democratic party, Manchin replied: “I would like to hope that Democrats feel like I do. I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate.”
“Now if there are no Democrats like that, they ought to push me where they want me,” he added.
Predictably, one of CNN’s reliably Democratic analysts, Kirsten Powers, called for him to go. For once, I agree with her. I will enjoy calling Senator Mitch McConnell “Senate Majority Leader” again, while Republicans assume the chairs of every Committee. Sen. Manchin no doubt would keep his perch atop the Energy Committee. Bills to federalize and undercut election integrity and “pack” the Supreme Court with up to 6 new seats would fade. Supporters of the Senate’s “filibuster” would rest a little easier.
Manchin may have lit the match with his Fox News venue, waiting to see the response before making that decision. Given the vitriolic responses from even the White House, the stage is now set to move Manchin’s Senate desk to the other side of the chamber. Especially if Manchin, age 74, still has ambitions to seek another term in 2024 or perhaps another run for the governor’s office he once held. Some think he may run for President, but that is unserious.
Another option, however unlikely, would be for Manchin to pull a Phil Gramm. Gramm was a Democratic House member in 1981 who supported and cosponsored legislation in support of President Reagan’s economic agenda, including tax and budget reform. After he was denounced by Democrats and lost his seat on the Budget Committee, he resigned his seat and won in the special election that ensued as a Republican. Gramm would go on to win election to the US Senate and unsuccessfully seek the 1996 GOP presidential nomination, won by Senator Robert Dole (R-KS).
But the actual coup de grace may happen when Schumer follows through on his promise for a vote on Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill regardless of Manchin’s weekend pronouncement early next year. That may mollify Progressive Democrats, but they should be careful what they wish for. It would be brazen for Schumer to try to remove Manchin from his Senate committee chairmanship and take some machinations (it would likely require a Senate Resolution that would have to overcome a possible GOP filibuster). Still, it is possible, especially if head-hunting progressives demand it. One can imagine Republicans allowing an up-or-down vote that dares them to help usher Manchin to their side of the aisle, where he would no doubt retain his chairmanship.
McConnell has been working on Manchin to switch parties for a while, and I’m sure he’s far from alone. That’s not to suggest Manchin wouldn’t cause occasional headaches for Republicans as well if he were to join their conference.
I have long suspected that Manchin will stick with his party, especially if he has no plans to run for political office after his Senate term ends in early 2025 when he’ll be 77 years old. But with national polls indicating a Republican sweep in the offing in the November 2022 congressional mid-term elections, does Manchin want to be ensconced in the minority party to complete his term of office?
All these calculations, and more, are probably swirling in Manchin’s head. He was never a fan of Donald Trump, but he’s no longer President now, and it’s his party making his life miserable.
The Senate’s party conferences meet at least once a week while they’re in session. It’s not hard to imagine at which conference Manchin would be more welcome. For once, the switch to at least a GOP-caucusing independent looks increasingly likely. The stage is almost set for him to cross the aisle. He should.