Report: Manchin thinking about leaving the Democratic party (But Manchin calls BS)

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

David Corn at Mother Jones reports that Sen. Joe Manchin has told people around him that if he doesn’t get his way on the Build Back Better bill, he may leave the Democratic Party.

In recent days, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) has told associates that he is considering leaving the Democratic Party if President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill do not agree to his demand to cut the size of the social infrastructure bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, according to people who have heard Manchin discuss this. Manchin has said that if this were to happen, he would declare himself an “American Independent.” And he has devised a detailed exit strategy for his departure…

Manchin told associates that he was prepared to initiate his exit plan earlier this week and had mentioned the possibility to Biden. But he was encouraged by the conversations with Sanders and top Democrats that occurred at the start of the week and did not yet see a reason to take this step. Still, he has informed associates that because he is so out of sync with the Democratic Party he believes it is likely he will leave the party by November 2022…

Manchin told associates that he is hopeful a compromise that creates an overall framework for the bill can be reached by the end of this week—but at no more than the $1.75 trillion he supports.

So Manchin is set on $1.75 trillion as the highest number he is willing to accept for the BBB bill. That’s up slightly from the $1.5 trillion he had said was his bottom line earlier in this process but it’s only half of what Democrats wanted. His message to Sanders, according to this report, is that half a loaf is better than nothing. The only other option Democrats have is to scuttle everything including the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but that would leave them empty handed when they face the voters again next year. Assuming they don’t want to do that, it looks like they are going to have to settle for the half a loaf Manchin is willing to give them. That’s assuming that Sen. Sinema is also on board with that figure.

Manchin’s last election was in 2018 so he’s not up again until 2024. This summer Politico reported that after suggesting 2018 might be his last campaign, he’d changed his mind and might run again in ’24.

“You never know. You don’t know. There’s always a chance, absolutely,” Manchin said in an interview. When it comes to a potential reelection campaign alongside a presidential race in 2024, Manchin said: “You better be prepared, that’s all I can say. And I’m being prepared.”

A move away from the Democratic Party could only help Manchin in deep red West Virginia. But renouncing the Democrats could have a dramatic impact on the party’s control of the Senate. If he were to start caucusing with Republicans, that would effectively hand control of the Senate to the GOP. It’s hard to imagine Democrats are willing to risk that. This isn’t a choice between half a loaf and a whole one, it’s a choice between half a loaf and no more bread for the rest of Biden’s term.

But would Manchin really want to do that? Switching his affiliation might not hurt his reelection chances but it would mean he’d no longer be the guy in control of the Senate. Being the standout Democrat in a 50-50 Senate gives him all the power in the world. Being one of 51 in the GOP caucus means every GOP Senator would have the power to decide what gets passed. If Manchin likes being the biggest voice in the room, and I think he clearly does, then he’d probably stay with the Democrats.

The situation could change in 2022 though. Manchin’s decision to leave the party would still be significant but it might not be decisive depending on how that election turns. But things definitely aren’t looking good for Democrats in the House right now so the window for major legislation is likely closing in 2022 no matter what happens in the Senate.

The big question I have about this story is how it wound up in Mother Jones of all places. David Corn has certainly had his share of scoops over the years but you would think the people Manchin is talking to about plans to leave the Democratic Party would be a bit more…moderate? Having this scoop/leak wind up in a decidedly left-wing outlet makes me wonder how this particular game of telephone was played. I’m not the only person wondering about this:

A lot of people reacting on Twitter are suggesting Manchin is just flexing a bit while others are just angry.

As I’m writing this, there’s a reaction from Manchin who says the Mother Jones story is “bulls**t.”

So either he didn’t want this to leak or it’s just not true. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.