West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin accused the state’s governor hanging onto federal pandemic relief funding as a slush fund.
Gov. Jim Justice accused the senator of being a liar.
It was Wednesday.
These kind of exchanges have been common among the two after Justice changed parties after being elected as a Democrat with Manchin’s support and joining the Republicans who control most of West Virginia’s state elected offices.
But the volleys have picked up in recent weeks as the state, where Justice is the chief executive, decides its priorities for millions of dollars in disaster relief passed by Congress, where Manchin serves.
Another big factor is the challenge Justice faces from Ben Salango, a Democratic candidate for governor who is supported by Manchin.
So political sparks — not the sparks of an exciting relationship — flew at multiple public appearances made by Justice and Manchin at midweek.
Manchin first made his charge, today, on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
He argued that Justice has been sitting on $1.25 billion that could be distributed more rapidly to suffering local governments and small businesses.
“This is nothing but a slush fund for Governor Jim Justice and other governors around the country that have not let their money go out,” Manchin said.
“In West Virginia, only 3.5 percent of that money has been distributed. $44 million have gone to cities and counties so far,” Manchin said.
Manchin, a former governor, said the Legislature should be involved in determining the priorities for the federal dollars.
“If you start playing with the people’s money, especially when the governor starts playing with the money the Legislature should be involved in dispersing and calling it on his own during an election year, that’s a slush fund,” he said.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 29, 2020
Manchin repeated the accusation a few minutes later during a call with reporters about the next federal relief package.
“I mean this, and it’s not political, but the governor is using this as a political slush fund,” Manchin said. “He’s in an election year, and using this as a political slush fund.”
Manchin said, “He’s playing games with this, and it can’t be.”
About an hour later, Justice called Manchin’s comments political.
A couple of questions into a regular coronavirus briefing, reporter Lacie Pierson of The Charleston Gazette-Mail asked Justice about what Manchin had said.
“Guys, you know me. I can’t do anything but tell you the truth: It’s a lie. It’s a lie. What Senator Manchin ought to do is concentrate on the job he has in D.C. and get that job done and get that job done properly,” Justice said.
The governor added, “”He ought to not concentrate so much on trying to run Ben Salango’s campaign.”
Justice wasn’t done.
“It’s grandstanding while running Ben Salango’s campaign and it is exactly what Joe Manchin has been since Day 1, a politician,” he said.
Justice continued to fire at Manchin as he continued the day’s briefing about West Virginia’s coronavirus response.
In response to a question by WOWK’s Mark Curtis about how many small businesses have applied for grants through the state, Justice focused on needs in the next congressional package.
“Think of the audacity of Senator Manchin to criticize how we’re sending out these CARES dollars for our cities and counties,” he said.
“Joe needs to go watch his votes. He’ll be lined up with Pelosi and everything,” the governor said, making reference to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California.
As Justice concluded the briefing, he again bemoaned politics.
“It’s no time for us in West Virginia to be a Republican or a Democrat or an independent. We need to be West Virginians. West Virginians trying to come through it in a way that is really tough,” he said.
He finished by saying, “I know we can even do better. Try with all in you. Protect yourself. Let’s lay aside the politics.”
A few hours later, shortly after 6 p.m., Salango weighed in with a comment of his own.
“Jim Justice is using his taxpayer-funded press conferences to attack me,” Salango said in a statement emailed by his campaign.
“We’ve asked Jim Justice to step up and help our small businesses, first responders, healthcare providers, and all West Virginians. All he’s done is help himself.”