Who is Joe Manchin?

Who is Joe Manchin?
Source: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters
Due to his willingness to side with Trump – including voting with the former president’s agenda more than any other Democrat – some liberals have expressed a desire to replace Manchin in the seat.

If President Joe Biden is the most powerful politician in the country and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer the most influential, Senator Joe Manchin may just be the most crucial. A self-described “moderate-conservative” Democrat from West Virginia, Manchin is celebrated as one of the last true bipartisan politicians in some corners but disparaged as an impediment to progress in others.

As Biden and Schumer aim to enact one of the most progressive agendas in generations, Manchin is turning out to be a vital but unreliable vote. That is in part because Manchin opposes sidestepping the filibuster, an option that would allow Democrats to push through much of the president’s agenda, particularly as it relates to a stimulus package, without needing any Republican votes.

For the next two years, at least, Manchin will also likely constrain his own party for ideological reasons. As the Democratic Party has been pushed further left by progressive voices, including those of “The Squad” in the House, Manchin has become a rare figure: a “pro-life” Democrat who supported former President Donald Trump’s border wall and has been slow to support LGBTQ causes.

The importance of holding onto Manchin’s seat in the Senate means Biden and Schumer won’t want to risk scorning him. At the same time, though, if Manchin prevents Biden’s agenda from coming to fruition, he could cost the Democratic Party votes in upcoming elections, especially in 2022 when control of the Senate will once again be up for grabs.

The early years of Joe Manchin

Joseph Manchin III was born in Farmington, West Virginia in August 1947 to John and Mary Manchin. His father owned and operated a grocery store, while his grandfather, who immigrated to America from Italy, owned a combination furniture/carpet store. Manchin is the second of five children.

Manchin was an athletic high school student who played football, baseball and basketball and ran track. His success in football led to a scholarship to play at West Virginia University. However, a knee injury ended his athletic career, so he focused on completing a degree in business, graduating in 1970.

He returned home after college to help run the family business. Manchin credits his grandfather with teaching him about public service and hard work.

Manchin is married to Gayle Conelly, whom he met in college. Her career has been dedicated to education, including serving on West Virginia’s State Board of Education. The couple have three children.

Joe Manchin enters politics

Manchin remained in the family business for over a decade before entering politics as a West Virginia state legislator in 1982. After four years in the House of Delegates, Manchin was elected to the West Virginia State Senate, where he served from 1986 to 1996.

Manchin’s time as a state legislature is probably most interesting for coinciding with the abrupt retirement of his uncle, A. James Manchin, as West Virginia’s state treasurer. In 1989, James, who had served in various political roles in the state for over 40 years, was facing an impeachment trial for losing US$279 million in state funds through poor investing.

Manchin left West Virginia’s Senate to run for governor in 1996 but did not make it out of the primary. Four years later, though, Manchin became the secretary of state, a role his uncle James had also filled at one time. Manchin served as secretary of state for four years, then took another shot at the governorship. This time, running as both pro-business and pro-union, he won.

During his time as governor, West Virginia hit some notable milestones, achieving its lowest unemployment numbers in history while managing a budget surplus. Other feats, however, were less welcome. While Manchin was governor, the state had the worst death rate in the country, the second-highest rate of diabetes and among the lowest educational rankings in math, science, reading and writing.

Despite those dubious numbers, Manchin enjoyed popularity in his home state and rode that popularity from the governor’s mansion to the United States Senate in late 2010.

Senator Joe Manchin

When then-Senator Robert Byrd died in office in mid-2010, Manchin appointed his chief counsel, Carte Goodwin, to fill the position. However, Goodwin chose not to run in a special election for the seat later that year, leading Manchin to step in.

After beating his Republican challenger, businessman John Rease, by 10 percentage points, The New York Times said of him, “Mr. Manchin is likely to vex his own party in the Senate as much as the opposition does.” It is a prophecy that has often proved true.

Manchin has criticized the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and said he wouldn’t have voted for it. As a pro-life Democrat, he opposed aspects of the law that would allow funding for abortions. This is in spite of the fact that more than twice as many Democrats consider themselves pro-choice than pro-life.

His most controversial stances, though, have been during Trump’s four-year term, in which Manchin frequently made a show of supporting the Republican president’s agenda, including supporting the border wall with Mexico and cheering on Trump’s tariff battle with China.

Additionally, Manchin’s confirmation votes for multiple Trump nominees, including being the sole Democrat to vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, has rankled many in the party.

At multiple times throughout his time in the Senate, there have been rumors that Manchin would switch to the Republican Party, though he has adamantly denied any intentions of doing so.

Due to his willingness to side with Trump – including voting with the former president’s agenda more than any other Democrat – some liberals have expressed a desire to replace Manchin in the seat. However, in 2017, when a progressive candidate, Paula Swearingen, attempted to primary Manchin, she was handily defeated.

Manchin narrowly won reelection in 2018 and will not face another election until 2024.

The two Joes: Manchin and Biden

Prior to Biden taking the oath of office, Manchin urged the incoming president to take a unifying tact. He also expressed a reluctance to follow through with the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

“First thing [Biden] needs to do,” Manchin told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “put his people in, get them confirmed. That should be the first thing we’re doing the first week. And then get people vaccinated, and then get people back to work and get businesses opened up.”

While that suggests Manchin will support his party’s leaders as they pursue an ambitious agenda of tackling the pandemic while restoring the economy, he is clearly not 100% on board. Manchin has repeatedly affirmed his opposition to abolishing the filibuster and to raising the federal minimum wage to US$15 an hour – one of Biden’s chief campaign promises.

Manchin has also proposed setting an income cap for recipients of the next round of stimulus checks. If Manchin’s proposal were adopted, it would mean that when Congress does pass a new stimulus package, fewer people would receive money than did in the last two rounds of stimulus checks.

That puts Manchin in direct opposition to Senator Bernie Sanders, the current chair of the Senate Budget Committee. Sanders, as the most progressive member of the Democratic caucus, is seeking to push the party further left in its policies, often to the chagrin of Manchin who opposes key progressive policies like Medicare for All and forgiving student loan debt.

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