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It’s clear Republicans are more comfortable dealing with Manchin — who calls almost everyone “buddy” and hosts alcohol-infused gatherings for senators on his boat — than with perhaps any other Democrat. In April, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., would stand next to Manchin to discuss a background checks deal but did not want Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., onstage.
Aides familiar with the thinking of Democratic leadership say leaders believe Manchin’s intent is usually pure, even though they get frustrated when his instinct to reach across the aisle undercuts the party’s agenda.
But Schumer, Manchin’s closest ally in leadership, had nothing but praise for the West Virginian.
“He’s very talented. He’s very good at bringing people together and seeing things in different ways than other people see it,” Schumer told CQ Roll Call. “We know he’s from a tough state, so both we admire what he’s done but we cut him a little slack.”
Manchin said that he doesn’t ever need the backing of the party or leadership to act on an issue, only the “blessings of ... God almighty and the West Virginia people.”
Last week, he floated legislation with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia to delay the individual mandate penalty by a year — effectively suspending the enforcement mechanism at the heart of the law and placing in-cycle Democrats in the potentially tenuous position of having to go on record on whether to undercut a law they voted for and Manchin didn’t.
On Tuesday, Manchin spoke from the Capitol’s West Front to a rally of thousands of coal supporters — including many hoisting “Save America, Impeach Obama” placards.
On Wednesday, Manchin became the last Senate Democrat to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Manchin skipped 2010’s vote on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” for a Christmas party while releasing an equivocating statement saying he could not support a repeal at the time but might be able to in the “near future.”
“Well, he does things like that,” said West Virginia’s senior senator, Jay Rockefeller, of Manchin’s address to the coal rally. “If they were having a rally for clean coal, I would have been there. But they’re having [a rally] for coal the way they do it now. I can’t go there.”
On the health care issue, Rockefeller seemed equally dismissive of the bill to delay the mandate: “I don’t agree with that approach.”
“I didn’t co-sponsor it, and I do think that this thing can work, and every day you delay in not getting money from younger enrollees, you’re preventing the main body of the bill from working,” said Rockefeller, who is retiring next year.
Of those from moderate states such as West Virginia who are still running for office and mulling changes to the health care law, Rockefeller said, “They’re probably up in 2014 and feeling nervous. It’s amazing what that does to people.”