Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told CNN on Thursday that the deadly attack on January 6 at the US Capitol changed him, saying, “You can’t have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other” as he calls for Democrats and Republicans to work together on top legislative priorities in a divided Washington.
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN, Manchin underscored his commitment to bipartisanship, warning that he won’t be willing to go it alone with Democrats until more serious negotiations get underway with Republicans. Manchin’s comments once again highlight why the moderate Democrat is the central political figure in Washington as President Joe Biden’s agenda depends on his vote.
“January 6 changed me. I never thought in my life, I never read in history books to where our form of government had been attacked, at our seat of government, which is Washington, DC at our Capitol, by our own people,” Manchin said, adding, “So, something told me, ‘Wait a minute pause. Hit the pause button.’ Something’s wrong. You can’t have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other.”
The West Virginia senator holds outsized influence in a chamber where Democrats control the narrowest possible majority under a 50-50 partisan split. Manchin says he wants to wield that power wisely.
“I’ve watched people that had power and abused it,” he said. “I’ve watched people that sought power and destroyed themselves, and I’ve watched people that have a moment of time to make a difference and change things and used it — I would like to be that third.”
Manchin’s comments come days after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that Democrats may be able to use a budget process known as reconciliation multiple times this year, unlocking far more opportunities for Democrats to push Biden’s agenda with just a simple majority. But, Manchin wouldn’t commit to going that way, arguing that he wanted to see more outreach to Republicans first.
“Reconciliation was never intended to be our main focus or our main vehicle for legislation. That’s not legislating. It has to be used from time to time. I understand that,” Manchin said. But he added, “There’s a time and a place.”
Manchin also stood by his opposition to changing Senate rules to eliminate the 60-vote threshold that must be cleared to pass most legislation so as to allow Democrats to push through more legislation on a party-line vote. “I’m not killing the filibuster. I’ve been very, very clear, ” he said.
As it stands, Democrats would need to get 10 Republicans to back an infrastructure bill to pass it through so-called regular order. But it’s not clear any of them would come on board. Not a single Republican voted for the Covid-relief bill and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said that Biden’s infrastructure bill is far too big to pass as proposed. Repeatedly pressed on if he’s convinced Republicans would get to “yes,” Manchin said more discussions were needed.
A proud gun owner, Manchin applauded Biden’s executive actions Thursday, arguing that they went further than just working around the fringes. He wouldn’t commit, however, to supporting a House-passed background check bill that could come to the floor when the Senate returns next week.
Asked if there have been any negotiations over the House legislation, Manchin said, “We haven’t gotten a bill yet, no we haven’t. I’m happy to work with them, sit down and we just call it common gun sense.”
Manchin said that he has an open line of communication with the White House, and a good relationship with Biden.
“They’ve been very, very kind in talking. We do talk, we have communications as often as I would like and as often as they would like.” Of Biden specifically, he said, “Whenever he calls me, he calls and then we have a good conversation. We’ve had a good friendship and relationship for a long time. We understand each other.”