CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Donald Trump didn’t exactly go with the ‘No Labels’ approach when describing the centrist credentials of Senator Joe Manchin in a New York Times interview.
Manchin has been known for a relatively friendly relationship with the president, who overwhelmingly won the vote in West Virginia last fall.
In the Times interview, Trump called Manchin a nice guy but also didn’t hold back with his criticism.
“You know, it’s like he’s the great centrist. But he’s really not a centrist,” Trump said. “And I think the people of West Virginia will see that. He not a centrist. … I’m the one that saved coal. I’m the one that created jobs. You know West Virginia is doing fantastically now.”
Manchin’s office had no immediate comment but did say Manchin had a myriad of meetings about the tax bill, including with Trump and his economic team. Manchin’s staff said he was working with Senators Corker and Portman until minutes before the vote.
Trump was interviewed about a range of topics by New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt in the Grill Room of Trump’s golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Manchin, a Democrat, is often seen as a moderate, willing to work across the aisle in the Senate. He has often worked with “No Labels,” a bipartisan group that aims to build consensus in Washington.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Manchin has voted 53.6 percent in line with Trump’s positions — though those affirmative positions did not include yes votes on the tax changes or on repealing the Affordable Care Act.
On this past month’s tax vote, Manchin told media outlets that he might have voted in favor of the changes if Trump and other Republicans had been willing to negotiate.
““I was an easy pickup. Very easy pickup,” Manchin told Politico earlier this month. “And a couple, two, three other Democrats would have been easy pickups, if they had just made an effort.”
That’s the topic the New York Times was asking about when Trump discussed Manchin.
TRUMP: “So. … We started taxes. And we don’t hear from the Democrats. You know, we hear b—-s—- from the Democrats. Like Joe Manchin. Joe’s a nice guy.”
SCHMIDT: “He is a very nice guy.”
TRUMP: “But he talks. But he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t do. ‘Hey, let’s get together, let’s do bipartisan.’ I say, “Good, let’s go.” Then you don’t hear from him again.”
Trump goes on to take credit for improvements to West Virginia’s economy.
There have been some improvements but many signs point to ongoing difficulties.
State leaders, particularly Gov. Jim Justice, have pointed to a recent article by a company called GoBankingRates, a personal finance website, that spotlighted West Virginia’s economic growth. The article cited gross domestic product and personal income growth rates, as well as decreases in jobless rates.
The GoBanking Rates article is based on growth, giving West Virginia an advantage in the rankings because of its historically poor economic performance.
“West Virginia ranks as No. 1 most improving because it had so much ground to make up,” its authors wrote.
“Its unemployment rate in March 2016 was 6.2 percent, one of the highest in the country. A year later the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent — still higher than 37 other states, but the most improved.”
A recent Forbes ranking of “Best States for Business,” ranked West Virginia last.
The Forbes article ranked West Virginia poorly on a variety of factors such as the worst population growth rate in the United States and the lowest college attainment rate in the country.
The Forbes article ranked West Virginia at or near the bottom in the categories of labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.
Trump, in the Times interview, described significant progress for West Virginia.
TRUMP: It’s the biggest turnaround. West Virginia, their average, their G.D.P. is the biggest turnaround after Texas. Texas [inaudible]. … The second percentage gain in G.D.P. [Inaudible.] And I won that state by 43 points against crooked Hillary Clinton. And I’ll tell you, I think Joe, ah. … I think there’s a lot of talk. … A lot of talk.
Trump won West Virginia’s general election votes last November with 67.9 percent of the vote compared to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s 26.2 percent of the vote.
He has been back to the state a couple of times in the past year, including a summer visit to Huntington when Justice announced his party switch from Democrat to Republican, saying one of the reasons was his close relationship with the president.
Manchin has described a warm and open relationship with Trump and, early in the administration, was discussed as a potential candidate for Energy Secretary.
“I’ve had more personal time with Trump in two months than I had with [Barack] Obama in eight years,” Manchin commented to Politico last April in an article titled “Manchin in the Middle.”
Manchin faces a competitive challenge for Senate next year.
He has a primary challenge from the left in candidate Paula Jean Swearengin.
A prominent Republican field has also lined up — including sitting Congressman Evan Jenkins, twice-elected Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Don Blankenship, the coal CEO who was sent to jail for a year on a conspiracy charge.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the West Virginia Senate race as “leans Democrat” in its Dec. 13 map. The Cook Political Report ranked the state’s Senate race as a “toss up” on Dec. 15, as did Inside Elections in its findings.
Republicans jumped on Trump’s comments this morning. The National Republican Senate Committee sent out a statement today that included Trump’s comments.
“President Trump souring on Manchin and seeing through his phony bipartisanship will be a real problem for the Democratic Senator in 2018,” stated Bob Salera, deputy communications director for the NRSC.
“Manchin has already voted against President Trump’s health care and tax cut bills, and will be hard-pressed to get back in the President’s good graces before next year’s election.”