Sen. Joe Manchin III is ready to make a deal.
“Always been,” the moderate West Virginia Democrat said in an interview just off the Senate floor.
Manchin — who famously shot up with a hunting rifle a Democratic bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions in an ad during his 2010 campaign — has made no secret about being frustrated by the gridlock that has paralyzed the Senate in recent years and he is looking forward to passing legislation. His declaration could make him the go-to Democrat for members of the new Republican majority seeking a bipartisan partner.
On “legislation which I think will really help the country, and benefit my state … I am going to be right there with them,” Manchin said.
But he warned he wasn’t interested in being the token Democrat for Republican grandstanding.
“If it’s things that I believe are strictly politicized for the sake of posturing for the 2016 election, I probably won’t be [there for my GOP colleagues]," Manchin said.
Asked if his outlook on the Senate would pose a problem for his leadership, Manchin said he doesn’t believe so.
“The bottom line is the leadership should be looking at what’s best for our country, and that’s what I am going to be looking for,” Manchin said. “Am I going to be lockstep with leadership? Absolutely not, and I don’t think they expect that; they know that by now.”
Manchin said he hopes to be able to help find bipartisanship so that Democrats "can go home and [say] we did something.”
That jibes with what many Democrats have said about their new minority role.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who often works with Democrats, expects Manchin to be a notable player in the 114th Congress.
“I see Joe as an individual who is very open to working with senators on the other side of the aisle, who is pragmatic in his approach … has a lot of common sense and just wants to get things done,” Collins said.
Former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., a moderate Democrat who was known for working with Republicans, said that centrists such as Manchin will determine if this GOP-led Senate works or not.
“I think the centrists hold the balance of power in this upcoming Senate,” said Breaux, who is now a lobbyist and was in the Capitol Tuesday to watch the swearing-in of the new Senate.
Manchin’s effort to create bipartisanship doesn’t end when the Senate is meeting. He is known for hosting off-hour get-togethers on his boat, which he keeps at National Harbor, just outside of Washington, D.C.
“We want to do more of that,” Manchin said, adding that he has had several senators on board, always the same number of Democrats and Republicans, including Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., a staid veteran lawmaker, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a tea party conservative and relative newcomer.
“If I can bring Tom Carper and Ted Cruz together and have a good time on the boat, then everything is well worth it,” Manchin said. “I don’t think they have ever spoken a word before that, and since then I’ve seen them talking. This just works.”
Sometimes they go out on the Potomac River. Manchin said another fan is Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who is chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
Schumer “usually leads the charge; he loves it,” Manchin said.
Manchin is also organizing a dinner for the unofficial Former Governors Caucus. “There are 10 of us now,” Manchin said. “We lost a couple of members and we have a couple of new members … so we want to keep that alive and going.”
Straight out of the gate, Manchin signed off on a bill that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, something opposed by most Democrats due to environmental concerns.
According to Manchin and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. — the lead GOP sponsor of the bill who appeared with Manchin Tuesday at a press conference on the bill — the legislation is expected to pass, with 63 senators so far indicating their support.
That's easily enough votes to pass, but not enough to top a fresh veto threat from the White House.
Manchin had hoped President Barack Obama would have a change of heart after the Senate held an open process with consideration of a lot of amendments — which Republicans have promised to do.
"I am disappointed that the President will not allow this Congress to turn over a new leaf and engage in the legislative process to improve an important piece of legislation," Manchin said in a statement.
Manchin also hopes to work with Republicans on shrinking the deficit and reducing redundancy in government.
Collins said she expects Manchin to work with her again on a bill that would change the definition of full-time work under the Affordable Care Act to 40 hours a week. Currently the Democrats’ signature health care law defines full-time work as 30 hours a week.
He is also a likely "yes" vote for Republicans on efforts to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency and other examples of what he believes are unchecked executive power.
“I am a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, being a former governor,” Manchin said. “I just believe I have seen [the White House] overreach.”
Manchin also channeled a Republican sense of humor Tuesday at the Keystone press conference when Hoeven misspoke and cited the IRS, when he meant to reference the EPA.
“They're about the same,” Manchin said, without missing a beat.
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