Regular Joes: Biden and Manchin, whose old relationship faces new test

Mr. Manchin came to Washington as a former governor, where he occupied the seat of the legendary Robert C. Byrd. He had little desire to talk to the staff, even though he worked in the west wing.

(Biden) was the only one who called it important, said a person familiar with the Manchin-Biden dynamic, recalling the early days of the senator’s relationship with the former vice president. Biden is the only one in government that Manchin will listen to.

Senate rules have always allowed a senator to delay nominations, but the dynamics of a 50-50 split in the chamber have given Manchin – along with a handful of other moderates willing to break with their party – even more power to determine the fate of a nomination or bill.

Manchin Roller

Manchin’s role was highlighted this week when Biden promised to push the gun control button after another mass shooting, this time in Colorado. Manchin and Biden have been actively working on a gun package since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. This package failed and was the last major legislative initiative for new gun restrictions.

Now Manchin will once again prove decisive in the debate on arms control. On Tuesday, he said he did not support background check legislation recently passed by the House of Representatives, going directly against Biden’s wishes and highlighting a serious division among Democrats over how to combat gun control – a top priority for their constituents – despite the fact that the party now controls Congress and the White House.

Manchin also opposed removing the 60-vote threshold for most legislation, making it even more difficult to pass new gun laws and ballot measures. He is the only Democratic senator who has not signed the Voting Rights Act.

We need to work together, Manchin said, 73. Why don’t you ask people when they last took the time to talk to some of the people on this site, to try to convince them or work with them, to just try. Did you have dinner with them? Did you have lunch with them? Did you have coffee with them? Try something.

The relationship between Biden and Manchin grew stronger in 2013 during the debate over gun reform, which has become a top priority of the Obama administration. When negotiations began to break down, Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, has proposed bipartisan legislation – with Biden’s help.

In many conversations… Biden’s conversations always took place during business hours, never at night ….. They talked a lot about what to do next. Biden blamed Manchin for the legislation, but in a more fatherly way, said a man familiar with the dynamic, Biden said he regretted some of the steps he took in the 1994 crime bill.

During the talks, Biden urged Manchin not to rush regulation of gun shows and not to approve online gun sales. And when someone in the Obama administration wanted to support the Manchin-Toomey position, Manchin became alarmed and urged Biden to withdraw those endorsements, fearing that it would make him radioactive with Republicans.

Total different

Today is a very different time: Biden in the Oval Office and Manchin in the center of centralized power in the Senate. He still represents voters in West Virginia, where the divide with the national Democratic Party is even deeper than it was a decade ago.

For the fans, he seems confident. To the critics, he seems to care. But Manchin has already shown that he is willing to use his excessive power in a way that will force the White House to respond.

The announcement on Friday afternoon in February that he could not support Biden’s budget candidate caused a frantic race in the West Wing as scouts diligently searched for a possible Republican vote. More than a week later, the nomination was withdrawn.

Later, as Mr. Biden’s first major legislative initiative, the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package, neared a final vote in the Senate, Mr. Manchin was surprised by the Democrats’ agreement that some benefits for the unemployed would not be tax deductible. He swallowed and slowed the progress of the bill for several hours.

After being praised by several of his Senate colleagues, Manchin eventually received a phone call from Biden, who his advisers say was deliberately trying not to make the situation worse.

Instead, the president decided to give Manchin space, listening to his concerns while stressing the importance of passing the bill, according to a source familiar with the discussions. According to two sources, the president urged Manchin to do what he thought was right – essentially vote his conscience.

It reflected a relationship that, according to multiple sources, has been in a strong position since Biden took office – Manchin is keen for Biden to be an honest broker, and Biden is aware that Manchin is his own senator and doesn’t like to be squeezed.

Officials said the White House has been in almost constant contact with Manchin or his office. And a close aide told CNN that Manchin knows exactly what Biden’s red lines are.

Those two have never served in the Senate together. And their relationship is only a decade old. But Manchin’s respect for Biden runs deep, said a person familiar with their relationship who attributes much of his current mood to those early phone calls after Manchin was elected in 2010.

It’s been a devastating year for Democrats. The party suffered heavy losses in the first midterm elections under President Obama. But Manchin was an exception: he won re-election and came to the Senate wanting to make a deal – and to be seen doing it.

On the rare occasions when Obama has called, Manchin has taken the call more like a lecture, two people familiar with the matter say. When Biden called, it was a much softer conversation on purpose, the vice president still questioning: Joe, what do you think? Joe, what do you want?

In November 2013, Manchin invited Biden to deliver the speech at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in West Virginia.

It was an evening celebrating the career of former state senator Jay Rockefeller, but Manchin controlled the Democratic levers and told supporters at the time that Biden was one of the few national Democratic figures he wanted to see in the state.

Joe and I have become very good friends, Biden said, praising Manchin, who first made a name for himself as a star football player in the state. Joe can take a punch, and Joe can throw a punch.

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