- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia is signaling that he is more interested in cozying up to President Trump than he is in catering to the progressive base of the Democratic Party that is demanding all-out resistance to the commander in chief.

Among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for re-election next year, Mr. Manchin was the lone Democrat to cross party lines to vote to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general and to appear with Mr. Trump at a signing ceremony last month for a bill that repealed a rule that advocates said hurt the coal industry.

The 69-year-old stood out again Tuesday when Mr. Trump traveled to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of Congress.

While most Democrats played the traditional role of the out-of-power party pooper, sitting glued to their seats, Mr. Manchin sprang to his feet on several occasions to applaud parts of Mr. Trump’s speech.

At the end, Mr. Manchin raced over to shake hands and congratulate Mr. Trump, while most other Democrats made a beeline for the exits.

Patrick Hickey, a political science professor at West Virginia University, said there is a good chance that Mr. Manchin will save some of the television footage from the event for a campaign ad.

“He knows the cameras are on him, and a picture of him shaking hands with President Trump could be used in a campaign ad to show bipartisanship,” Mr. Hickey said.

Many Democrats sat stone-faced through most of the speech.

Indeed, Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the new vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida refused to stand and clap in honor of the wife of fallen Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens.

During an appearance Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Mr. Manchin, who did join his fellow Democrats by refusing to applaud Mr. Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, stressed his independent streak.

“I’m identified as a Democrat, and I am a West Virginia Democrat,” Mr. Manchin said. “That doesn’t always coincide with what goes on up here in the national Democratic Party.”

Conrad Lucas, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, said Mr. Manchin has grown desperate and is trying to save his political career after Mr. Trump won over nearly 7 in 10 West Virginia voters in November.

“It is obvious that West Virginia was the most pro-Trump state and Joe Manchin was a steadfast supporter of Hillary Clinton since Day One of the 2016 campaign and he is up for re-election in 2016, so he is going to do everything he can to mask his past,” Mr. Lucas said. “But I think voters in West Virginia are much smarter than falling for Joe Manchin.

“He is going to try anything he can to disguise the liberal that he is,” he said.

Progressives aren’t happy with Mr. Manchin, either.

“Senate Democrats running for re-election in red states will lose their general elections if they don’t inspire independent voters and the Democratic base,” said Adam Green, co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “To win in 2018, he needs to be more in touch with the times and stand up more strongly to Trump and his team of billionaires and bankers.”

Mr. Hickey said Mr. Manchin’s re-election strategy has been more focused on moving to the middle in preparation for a general election showdown with a well-known Republican than moving to the left to fend off a lesser-known primary challenger.

Reps. Evan Jenkins and David McKinley, and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are thought to be considering runs.

“It does make some sense because he is a really popular Democrat in what is now a Republican state,” Mr. Hickey said.

Mr. Hickey said it is an open question as to whether the grass-roots energy on he left could match the sort of activists’ energy on the right that helped Dave Brat defeat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary race in Virginia.

Politico reported last week that Mr. Manchin recently pushed back against progressive critics after coming under fire on a conference call, challenging them to “find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out.”

In an appearance Wednesday on the “Laura Ingraham Show,” Mr. Manchin said the “hard-core left” is calling for the same sort of obstruction that Republicans threw up against President Obama.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said, adding that gridlock does not help the nation and that the political environment in Washington has grown too hostile.

“We come to work every day, and they expect me as a Democrat to be against every Republican, to raise money and go out and campaign against them, which I will not do,” he said.

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