Manchin voted to oust Trump. He could endorse his reelection.




  • In Politics
  • 2020-02-13 09:30:17Z
  • By Politico
 

Joe Manchin thinks President Donald Trump abused his power and voted to remove him from office. But he also thinks Trump can still be a "tremendous president" and is eager to reconcile.

The West Virginia Democratic senator surprised his Republican colleagues by denying Trump a bipartisan acquittal last week. But he can't quit Trump entirely - and is even open to supporting Trump's re-election campaign.

"I don't rule anything out. I really don't rule anything out," Manchin said in an interview in his office amid a series of attacks from the president. "I'm always going to be for what's best for my country. Everybody can change. Maybe the president will change, you know? Maybe that uniter will come out, versus the divider."

While it may defy logic that Manchin could support a president he voted to kick out of office, Manchin sees things differently. Trump did everything he could to defeat Manchin in 2018 and Manchin forgave him a week later. It might take Trump longer to forget Manchin's vote, but the third-term senator is hopeful as always.

"It's not different when he wanted to have lunch the week after I was elected. And he said: 'I knew we couldn't beat you.' And I said: 'it wasn't for lack of trying.' Boom, it's over, let it go. I did. I'm asking him to do the same thing I did," Manchin said. "He tried to remove me."

The episode is vintage Manchin - keep everyone guessing and find a way to stay in the mix of the 2020 election, despite the dearth of opportunities to cut deals with Republicans and deploy his back-slapping brand of bipartisanship. Making peace with Trump would also help if he runs in 2024 for yet another term representing West Virginia, one of the strongest Trump states in the country. Manchin isn't ruling that out either and said his vote to remove Trump is "no signal at all about my political career."

Manchin also plans to hold a series of town halls to explain his impeachment decision to West Virginians.

"I owe it to them. Hell yes, I'm going back home to do town halls," he said.

Republicans and Trump have tried to recruit Manchin to switch parties several times but have always failed. And they've generally been frustrated with Manchin's record of cooperation on legislation even though he's the most receptive Democrat to the Trump agenda.

While he's supported most of Trump's nominees, including both Supreme Court picks, he opposed the GOP's tax overhaul and Obamacare repeal and now has voted to convict the president in the impeachment trial.

"Lindsey [Graham] had talked about the fact that we were going to get several Democrats. And Joe was one," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). "He kind of walks this line. There are those in our conference who say he's always with you except when you need him."

Trump has lately attacked Manchin as a "Munchkin" and Manchin has criticized Trump for not mounting a defense during the impeachment trial and for his name-calling. Manchin said he hasn't reached out to the president or the White House yet about putting his trial vote behind him, saying he wanted things to "simmer down" a bit before making that move.

Still, Graham has tried to aid Manchin's bid to reconnect with Trump. The South Carolina Republican said in an interview he's spoken to Trump about his attacks on Manchin and argued that the West Virginia moderate is one of Trump's best shots at getting anything done with Democratic support.

Graham reminded Trump that he and his aides campaigned against Manchin barely more than a year ago and that politics is "a business."

Trump "doesn't believe it today. But there will come a time when we need Joe tomorrow," Graham said. "We still have a lot to do here. Prescription drugs and a lot of things are gonna be right on the cusp of 60 votes."

Democrats were buoyed by Manchin's vote to convict. He was clearly the most likely Democratic senator to cross party lines in the trial. And he admitted in the interview that he started off inclined to vote against conviction but found that the burden of evidence made that impossible as the trial went on.

"Joe really struggled," said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who had discussed the trial with Manchin and fellow Democratic moderate Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. "Joe did what he felt like was the absolutely right thing to do. And that's what Joe Manchin does."

A few days before the final vote, Manchin took to the podium in the Democratic caucus room and relayed how wrenching the impeachment vote had become for him. He'd never stood in that spot before in a closed-door party meeting, and most senators left with the impression that he would acquit Trump.

Yet by the State of the Union address last week, a day before the impeachment vote, Manchin had made his decision. And Trump's partisan performance didn't help make the president's case.

"I saw the State of the Union, and I said: 'It's not who we are.' There's so many good things that we can do better," Manchin said.

For so long, Manchin has faced skepticism in Washington for his attempts at triangulation. His vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh came just weeks before his 2018 election, and it is widely credited with saving his seat in deep red West Virginia.

Manchin still bristles at the suggestion he voted for Kavanaugh to save his hide. He said the case was not proven that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. The House impeachment managers' case against Trump, on the other hand, was proven, Manchin said. And he became more certain by the president's opposition to hearing from new witnesses.

"Witnesses might have made me to the point where I have doubt. I would have reasonable doubt. Maybe," Manchin said. "I had no doubt when everything [came] the way it came across."

Manchin is equally sensitive about efforts to cast him as someone who blindly follows along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) remarked last week that his vote against Trump showed Schumer had "pulled the noose a little tight" on him.

Manchin texted Capito minutes after her TV hit on Fox News: "I think you know me better than that." Capito declined to comment on her colleague's relationship with Trump: "I just don't want to get in the middle of that. I really don't."

Yet if liberals are looking for Manchin to now delight them on a weekly basis, they'll be disappointed. Manchin has already endorsed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and is unlikely to do much, at all, against Capito or any other incumbent Republican on the ballot in November.

And he said he still intends to support many of Trump's conservative judges, provided they are experienced and are deemed qualified by the American Bar Association.

"Do you think the Democrat caucus has been pleased with my votes?" Manchin asked. "I vote 56 percent of the time with the Republicans."

Yet even as he looks to make nice with Trump, he's still opposed to many of the president's policies. Manchin is angry about the Trump-supported lawsuit that would gut the Affordable Care Act and livid about the president's budget and what it would do to West Virginia.

Moreover, he said he needs to do a full analysis of whether his state is truly better off than it was three years ago and if Trump's rhetoric matches his results in his state. In the end, he may end up being neutral in 2020, especially depending on whom Democrats nominate. But he's still keeping his eye on Trump.

"I hope he changes," Manchin said. "I'm looking for that person that has heart and soul and compassion."

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