After picking the Senate over a possible job in Donald Trump’s Cabinet, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III is trying to play the bridge-builder role between the Senate Democratic caucus and the incoming administration.
Manchin told reporters that he spoke with Vice President-elect Mike Pence after Wednesday’s party caucus lunches about Republican designs to repeal the 2010 health care law. Pence attended the Republican conference’s lunch meeting, as he plans to do regularly when he is in town while vice president.
Manchin had previously traveled to New York to meet with Trump and was reportedly considered for secretary of Energy. Instead, the 69-year-old former coal executive and carpet store owner is expected to seek re-election in two years in a state Trump carried with nearly 69 percent of the vote.
Asked by a reporter if Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York viewed him as an emissary of sorts, Manchin said, “Absolutely.”
“That’s going to be my job. My job is basically to go up to the White House and meet with President-elect Trump and his team and Vice President Pence,” Manchin said. “We exchanged our personal telephones and we’ll keep in contact.”
Schumer was supportive of Manchin’s desire to meet with Pence, according to the West Virginia Democrat.
“We agree on many things and we agree to disagree on many things,” Manchin said of Schumer. “Chuck has put me on leadership. He says, ‘Listen, you get along with everybody. There’s not anybody that doesn’t think well of you … so you can build those bridges.’”
“There’s those of us that want to sit down and talk, so I reached out,” Manchin said of the origins of Wednesday’s meeting with Pence.
The idea of Manchin switching parties and effectively handing another Senate seat to the GOP majority does not appear to be on the table.
“They’ve given up on that,” Manchin said. “My brand is being … a West Virginia Democrat. I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. That’s my brand. My identity is a Democrat. If I change my identity, don’t you think people think I ought to change my brand too? That doesn’t help.”
Manchin said that in the meeting with Pence, he offered thoughts on what to do about issues with the health care law. Manchin skipped a meeting between President Barack Obama and Democratic members of Congress earlier in the day.
“There’s not one vote on the Democrat side to repeal without a replacement,” Manchin said. “I’d recommend repairing it before repealing it.”
Jeremy Dillon contributed to this report.