President Joe Biden is nominating Gayle Manchin of West Virginia to become Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC is a federal agency that invests tax dollars and promotes economic growth over the 13-state Appalachian area.
Manchin is qualified for the job. She is a life-long professional educator, former president of the state Board of Education, and a driven advocate for improving lives through education.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recommended Manchin, based on their work together with Reconnecting McDowell, the long-term effort to create opportunity through education in the southern West Virginia county.
United Mine Workers Union President Cecil Roberts called it a perfect choice. “She has been deeply involved in the hard work of improving the lives of people in Appalachia for decades and has demonstrated her commitment to creating opportunities for all its people,” Roberts said.
West Virginia is the only state that is located entirely within the ARC. As Co-Chair, Manchin will be in a unique position to help her home state.
So, this will be good for Gayle Manchin and West Virginia. But not so much for her husband, Joe Manchin.
Axios news reported the nomination, and under the heading of “why it matters,” pointed out, “Senator Joe Manchin is a critical moderate swing vote that Biden will need in order to pass any of his priorities in the 50-50 Senate.”
And there it is—the suggestion that Biden’s nomination of Gayle Manchin is designed to win favor (and votes) with Senator Joe Manchin. That is unfair to Gayle, perhaps, but the public and political perception is inevitable.
Many believed Elaine Chao was a great success story and qualified to be Donald Trump’s Secretary of Transportation. However, her tenure was always colored by the fact that she is the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, who at the time was the Majority Leader.
As we are reminded daily, Joe Manchin is in a powerful position. Biden desperately needs Manchin’s support to advance his agenda.
Meanwhile, Manchin has embraced the role of a high-level bipartisan dealmaker, saying he will do what is right even if it costs him politically. He has placed himself in a position of moral authority.
But now what? Does he owe Biden a favor? If he does then it is business as usual in Washington and Manchin will have squandered his opportunity to return a modicum of independence to our DC politics.
But let’s say Manchin is not under any obligation to the President, that he will, as promised, abide by the courage of his convictions. There is still a problem because if Manchin sides with Biden on a controversial vote—getting rid of the filibuster for example—there will still be a perception that it was a favor returned.
We wish Gayle Manchin the best in her new position. She will be, as she has always been, a strong advocate for improving people’s lives. But politics being what they are, the nomination also undermines her husband’s credibility as an independent voice in the Senate.