Progressives are not happy with Senator Joe Manchin, and it’s getting to him.
“What you ought to do is vote me out,” the West Virginia Democrat told political activists on a February 24 phone call, which was later posted on Facebook. “Vote me out! I’m not changing. Find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out.”
Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, has been facing increasing pressure from progressives to move left and more strongly oppose the Trump regime.
The ire actually began only a few hours before Donald Trump won the election. At 6:28 PM on November 8, MSNBC’s Craig Melvin reported that Manchin would not commit to staying in the Democratic Party in the case of a 50/50 Senate tie. Hours later, Manchin stated that he would not be switching to the Republican Party as long as he was in the Senate. Democrats ended up gaining two seats, giving them a total of 48 (including the two independents who caucus with Democrats.)
But Manchin quickly showed Democrats that he would not accept the Democratic Party as a force of opposition to Trump. Just three days after the election, Manchin slammed then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for illegitimizing Donald Trump as a “sexual predator who lost the popular vote.” Alienating the liberal base that was furious about Trump’s Electoral College victory, Manchin said that Reid was “an absolute embarrassment to the Senate as an institution, our Democratic party, and the nation.” Manchin went on to urge Democrats to work with Trump.
Less than a month later, Manchin met with Donald Trump to discuss serving as Energy Secretary, a position later given to former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Manchin continued to distance himself from the opposition party during the confirmation process. He was one of three Democrats to vote for Rex Tillerson, one of two to vote for Scott Pruitt, and the sole Democrat to vote for Jeff Sessions and Steve Mnuchin. The only two Trump nominees Manchin actually voted against were Betsy DeVos and Tom Price, neither of whom received a single Democratic vote.
Nonetheless, Manchin is one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress. In an attempt to appeal to Democrats across the spectrum, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York appointed Manchin to the Senate Democratic leadership team several days after the election. Schumer also appointed Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is technically an independent, to appease the increasingly engaged progressive wing of the party.
As progressive engagement has increased, so has Manchin’s frustration. With Republicans focusing on repealing the Affordable Care Act, activists and constituents alike have been flooding town halls to demand that Congress doesn’t take away their healthcare. But the anger and concern has not been directed at Republicans alone; centrist Democrats have faced angry crowds of Obamacare recipients, prompting Democrats including Manchin to ask Bernie Sanders to urge his progressive followers to target Republicans alone during a February 14 leadership team meeting.
The call in which Manchin exploded at West Virginia activists was actually about holding town halls, something Manchin is resistant to. Manchin also expressed his disdain for Bernie Sanders supporters, interrogating one activist about whether they voted for Sanders in the Democratic primary (Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the West Virginia primary by over 15 points).
Manchin’s question was met with surprise from the activist: “Uh, well, I don’t quite see the relevance of that to this conversation.” Manchin then pointed to the fact that “Bernie Sanders is not even a Democrat.”
Joe Manchin is one of 10 Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2018 in states won by Donald Trump. Though Manchin won re-election in 2012 by 24 points, Trump won West Virginia by over 42 points, the largest presidential margin in the state’s history.
On February 23, progressive organizations CREDO, #AllOfUs, Democracy for America, Other98, and 350 Action issued a letter to Chuck Schumer demanding him to drop Manchin from the Democratic leadership team.
“Joe Manchin’s constant refusal to stand up against Republicans’ racist, sexist and misogynist agenda disqualifies him from serving as a leader of the resistance party,” said CREDO Action Senior Campaign Manager Heidi Hess. “Sen. Schumer should do the right thing and immediately remove Manchin from Democratic leadership.”
Progressives are already preparing to challenge incumbents across the country. Some have gone as far as to form organizations such as Brand New Congress and PACs such as We Will Replace You to oust politicians like Manchin and replace them with progressive outsiders in the vein of Bernie Sanders.
Republicans see Manchin’s seat as an easy take for 2018. But it looks like Manchin may face a challenge from the left as well.
Jordan is a political writer, activist, cinephile, proud queer woman of color, and Mad Max: Fury Road fanatic. She’s cautiously optimistic about the future of humanity.