Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has built a reputation for being a moderate by getting in the way of Joe Biden’s agenda a few select times. While Manchin’s scant acts of defiance have been welcome when they happen, I can’t say I’m impressed by his more recent gestures against Biden.
Manchin refused to back some of Biden’s political nominees and expressed displeasure with the Biden administration’s energy policies.
For example, Manchin refused to back Gigi Sohn, Biden’s nominee to the Federal Communications Commission; Daniel Werfel, Biden’s nominee for IRS Commissioner; or Laura Daniel-Davis, Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of the Department of Interior. Werful was easily confirmed and Sohn’s nomination was always doubtful, but Manchin’s opposition to Daniel-Davis effectively killed her nomination before it got out of committee.
Other times, Manchin has been a useful tool of the Democrats. Sure, he opposed Build Back Better, but in September, he was duped into a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to support the so-called Inflation Reduction Act. Without Manchin’s support, the bill never would have passed the Senate or become law, and wouldn’t have given Joe Biden a legislative victory at a time he really needed one. It didn’t matter that the legislation actually did nothing to address inflation. And, of course, despite his reputation as a “moderate” or “independent” voice, Manchin has voted with Joe Biden roughly 88% of the time on legislation and has voted to confirm all of Biden’s judicial nominees, even the controversial ones, like pro-child-sex-offender, critical race theory-supporting Ketanji Brown Jackson.
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So why is Manchin seemingly putting himself at odds with Biden and the Democrats more aggressively lately?
It’s not because he intends to run for president; despite rumors of a potential candidacy, Manchin has taken that off the table. So while he won’t be running for president in 2024, he is up for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately for Manchin, he now ranks as one of the nation’s most unpopular senators. However, he hasn’t spoken of retiring, so it seems likely he’ll run for reelection. He could be acting adversarial toward the Biden agenda to enhance his appeal amongst Virginia Republicans and increase his chances of victory. In addition to his modest opposition to Biden’s agenda, Manchin has so far refused to endorse Biden in 2024. To me, this suggests he’s going to run for reelection to the U.S. Senate.
Although West Virginia Democrats may be more practical than their Arizona counterparts have been with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, should they support Manchin in a potential Democrat primary, it will not significantly improve his chances of winning against a strong GOP candidate in the general election. In fact, Manchin’s margins of victory have been decreasing with each of his elections. While he secured a comfortable 24-point win in 2012, his reelection in 2018 was won by a narrow margin against Republican candidate Patrick Morrisey, with Manchin receiving only 49.7% of the vote compared to Morrisey’s 46.2%. Morrisey is reportedly considering a rematch in 2024. Whichever Republican ends up running against Manchin in 2024, it’s safe to say that West Virginia, where Trump won 68.6% of the vote in 2020, will finally oust Manchin, no matter how much he tries to reinvent himself as an independent voice ahead of his reelection campaign.