CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If there is any pressure on U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at this point of the election cycle, it is not obvious.
Manchin, running for his second full term in Washington, D.C., was all smiles during a stop in Charleston on Friday. Sporting a Harley-Davidson t-shirt, he greeted attendees at the Capitol City Biker Bash. A motorcyclist himself, Manchin arrived on his Road King Classic. The senator said he’s been riding since he was at least 12 years old.
“Little bikes, little mopeds, anything I could get my hand on,” he said. “I got up into the bigger stuff, you know, as I got a little older.”
Manchin is not the only political candidate to have enjoyed Biker Bash; his Republican opponent for Senate, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, attended the event Thursday as part of his politicking efforts.
Both Manchin and Morrisey have their sights set on the November general election with different strategies on how to win. Even prior to his victory in the May primary, Morrisey strived to showcase himself as the most conservative choice to advance President Donald Trump’s agenda. This was most evident last week when the president’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., attended a Charleston reception benefiting Morrisey’s campaign.
“The people of this state, they get it. They’ve been forgotten,” Trump Jr. said. “They’ve been left behind, and they’ve been left behind by one of the two people representing them in the Senate. We’ve got an incredible opportunity to fix that.”
It does not help Manchin that Trump — who won in West Virginia by 42 points in the 2016 election — is not just popular in the state, but more popular in West Virginia compared to a majority of the country with a 62 percent approval rating according to Morning Consult. Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report rate the Senate race as a “toss-up.”
Manchin has voted in line with the president’s policies more than 61 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight — the highest rating among Democratic senators — but voted against last year’s attempts to change former President Barack Obama’s health care law and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the latter of which went into law in December.
“I want to make sure West Virginians don’t lose their health care. I think it’s horrible what they continue to try to do to them. I want to make sure our seniors don’t have to pay higher prices and get cut off due to pre-existing conditions and have their health care thrown out,” he said. “There’s so many things.”
Morrisey has said Trump indicated plans to visit West Virginia before the election is held. Trump has made four stops in West Virginia since he took office in January 2017, most recently in April for a roundtable regarding the new tax law.
“The president’s always welcome to West Virginia. We’ve always been welcome to any president and every president that wanted to come,” Manchin said. “If it’s for political reasons, he’ll have to make that decision. I’m the most centrist, bipartisan senator in the Senate right now. I want to work in a bipartisan way.
“I want to work with my president when it’s good for West Virginia, and I’ll stand up to him when it’s wrong.”
Trump has been critical of Manchin in recent months; he told the New York Times in December that Manchin “doesn’t do anything” outside of proposing bipartisan solutions, and criticized Manchin’s vote against the tax law during his April stop in White Sulphur Springs.
But Manchin said working with Trump is important for both the state and country’s future.
“Every red-blooded American — no matter who your president is, no matter who he or she may be, no matter what political party, no matter if you disagree — you should try to do everything you can to make them successful,” he said.
According to Politico, Manchin threatened to revoke his support of Hillary Clinton during the previous election after saying in March 2016 she planned “to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” in exchange for new job opportunities in renewable energy.
Manchin told reporter Burgess Everett that former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton asked him to not pull his support, with the presidential candidate telling the senator she would act to bring broadband internet and infrastructure to southern West Virginia if elected.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Joe, if I become president, I’ll send Bill down here — my husband, Bill Clinton — and you and him make that happen,'” Manchin told MetroNews. “Now, if I was going to do what I knew was good for politics, I’d walk away. If I’m going to do my job and do what I’m supposed to do … it’s not about me, it’s not about the politics, it’s about West Virginia.”
“If people knew that I had a chance to get all those things fixed and help southern West Virginia — highways, broadband, high-speed (internet,) hydroelectric dam — and I walked away from that because I was afraid of my political career, then shame on me. I shouldn’t be running,” he added.
Manchin will be splitting time between West Virginia and Washington, D.C. before Election Day; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., canceled a majority of the August recess, keeping Manchin and other candidates away from the campaign trail.
Manchin said he plans to have a solution to funding coal miner pensions before this year’s congressional session ends. He is one of 16 members of the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans.
Another issue that could be debated by lawmakers is immigration; Republicans in the House of Representatives are pushing for an immigration bill.
Manchin said he supports building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a plank of Trump’s platform.
“I, like every other American, thought that Mexico was going to pay for the wall. That’s not going to happen,” he said. “Get over that, but we still have to secure our border, and I’m for whatever it takes to secure it. We’re going to have a wall. We’re going to have to have more security. We’re going to have to have better control over our points of entry.”
One Nation, a conservative political action committee, launched an advertisement Friday urging Manchin to support building a wall. The advertisement said Manchin opposed building such structure, citing remarks from the senator himself.
“It’s something I have no interest in. I just think we have so many other pressing problems and I think there’s other ways immigration needs to be treated,” Manchin told Politico in July 2017.
Counsel for the Manchin campaign sent letters to television stations asking for the advertisement not to be played, calling it misleading.
“Sen. Manchin supports funding and building the border wall and has made many public statements and cast several recent votes in support of the border wall as demonstrated below,” counsel James Lamb said.
When asked if he evolved to supporting the wall, Manchin said he has always been in favor of securing the border.
“I’ve talked to the professionals, and the bottom line is we need an awful lot more than just a wall. But a wall’s a part of it, and I’ve told the Democrats to get over it,” he said. “The president’s going to say he needs a wall. We do need a wall, but it’s just a part of it.”
With less than five months until the election, Manchin is not worried about Morrisey and other Republican efforts against him. He said his message is one centered on assuring West Virginians he has the state’s interests at heart.
“I know who my bosses are. My bosses are the 1.8 million-plus people in West Virginia. That’s who I work for,” he said. “I want to work with the president, but I know the bosses I work for.”