CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke about the Democratic Party’s future during a speech Friday night at the Charleston Civic Center.
Yet before he talked about the party and what needs to happen to prepare for the 2018 midterm elections, he stumped for one of his colleagues, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
“We are brothers in the foxhole together, and we watch each other’s backs,” he said in front of an audience of more than 800 people.
“Sometimes, when we hear a lot from (Senators) Bernie (Sanders of Vermont) and Elizabeth (Warren of Massachusetts), I elbow Joe to speak up and give the other side. People just listen, and everybody wants to go to bat for Joe.”
Schumer and Manchin were two of the speakers at the West Virginia Democratic Party’s annual Roosevelt-Kennedy Dinner, which was called the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner prior to this year.
State party chair Belinda Biafore said Schumer was invited following the fight to reject Republican proposals to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
The left-leaning Center for American Progress said if the most recent bill had been signed into law, 32 million Americans would have lost health insurance coverage with West Virginia seeing a loss of 156,000 people previously covered.
“I think that the more (Republicans) try to take programs away from people, the more the working class realizes who they are hurting and the more we’re going to get on board,” Biafore said of Republicans.
Manchin referenced his upbringing in Farmington during his speech as to why he became a Democrat in the first place.
“If a miner got killed in the mine, and I can tell you, my grandfather would have a load of groceries and I was on a grocery truck delivering that load immediately,” he said. “He stuck with them and fed them until there was another way to take care of them or they got situated.”
Democrats nationally are still trying to figure out how to respond to President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. For those at the state level, they are focusing what is next move following Gov. Jim Justice’s return to the Republican Party and the GOP’s continued control over the state Legislature.
“When I lost the race for governor in ’96, I could see the shifting of the winds,” Manchin said. “You can’t blame anybody. The bottom line is you can fix it.”
“We went through a lot of soul-searching after this election,” Schumer said. “I believe when you lose an election the way we do, you don’t blame somebody else. You look in the mirror, you don’t blink and you say, ‘What did we do wrong? How can we do better?'”
Schumer said Democratic senators evaluated the party’s standing during a retreat at the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, which was made “at Joe’s request.” The Democratic senators listened to multiple West Virginians who were registered with the party, but not unanimously supportive of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Average folks felt the economy was rigged against them. The old American ethic — you work hard, you keep your head down, you care about God and family and doing a good job, everything would work out — didn’t seem to be true anymore,” Schumer said. “They felt they were getting a raw deal. They felt there were these large economic forces pushing them around, and there was no one standing up for them. They were right.”
Schumer added lawmakers have spent too much time fighting with each other, and it has caused many to overlook portions of the public that are struggling.
“Democrats, in my judgment, too often hesitated directly and unflinchingly to take on the misguided policies that got them there,” he said. “Standing up for people, even when the big interests are pushing the other way.”
Manchin struck similar tones in his address, saying Democrats must remain true to helping those in need, as well as be willing to work with Republicans when necessary.
“We can play party politics all day long, but if I got to run against somebody, then what is the point of running for something?” he said.
Prior to the dinner, around 45 people gathered outside the Charleston Civic Center for “Joe Manchin’s Retirement Party.” The West Virginia Republican Party, which hosted the gathering, brought a cake in the shape of a pink slip.
Two of the party’s Senate candidates, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and former coal miner Bo Copley, spoke to the crowd about why Manchin should not serve another six-year term in office.
“I have been able to see Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin in action, and they are two peas in a pod,” Jenkins said.
“Do we want a United States senator who cares about representing West Virginia values?” he asked the crowd.
“Yes!” they responded.
“Do you want somebody who is going to look you in the eye and say, ‘I want your vote because I want to go to Washington and fight for West Virginia?'”
“Folks, Joe Manchin is out of time. Chuck’s change, bringing in this money. That is what tonight is all about,” Jenkins continued.
Copley, who was laid off from Arch Coal in September 2015, struck a different tone than Jenkins, instead thanking Manchin for “showing people of this state they don’t matter to him” by aligning himself with Schumer and Clinton.
“The people of West Virginia are finally saying we have to move in a different direction,” he said. “Not just in a different direction with political parties, but a different direction with the type of people that we trust to be our voice in Washington, D.C.”
Manchin seemed to take a shot at Jenkins and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey during his address, indirectly referencing Jenkins’ 2013 switch to the Republican Party and Morrisey’s previous Congressional campaign while living in New Jersey.
“Is your purpose to change parties because you think it’s easier for you to get elected? Is your purpose to come from another state because you think you have an easier passage for something you want to do?” he said. “What’s your purpose? That’s what we should be asking.”
Morrisey was scheduled to be at the GOP event, but was not present. He said on Twitter he was there “in spirit.”