Within hours of the Georgia Senate election, all eyes were on Sen. Joe Manchin.
The West Virginian who calls himself a “moderate, conservative Democrat” is poised to become the crucial swing vote in the evenly split Senate, and the last line of defense against a progressive leftist agenda, thanks to the apparent double-Democratic victory in the Georgia Senate runoff.
Mr. Manchin, no doubt mindful of his newly minted status, issued a statement Wednesday calling for Democratic and Republican lawmakers to work together in a “new era of bipartisanship.”
“Now, more than ever, we must enter a new era of bipartisanship in Washington,” he said. “With tight margins in the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans are faced with a decision to either work together to put the priorities of our nation before partisan politics or double down on the dysfunctional tribalism.”
Already, Mr. Manchin is feeling the heat. Some progressives responded to his statement on social media by urging him to support their legislative priorities, telling him to “be bold and strong” and warning him not to “concede to traitorous Nazis.”
“I hope you’re ready for almost constant rallying outside your home and office. You’ll get no peace if you stand in the way of our progress,” tweeted Nevada activist Jessica Grace.
Meanwhile, conservative pundit Ben Shapiro tweeted Mr. Manchin’s Senate office number and urged West Virginia voters to put it on speed dial, saying that the senator “may be the only obstacle standing between the republic and its dissolution.”
Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have been projected the winners of the Georgia Senate races, meaning Democrats will control the White House, the House and Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris representing the tie-breaking vote in a 50-50 Senate.
It was the worst-case scenario for Republicans, who picked up House seats but now worry that Democrats will seek to ram through back-breaking structural changes such as eliminating the filibuster, packing the Supreme Court, and granting statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Another potential swing vote lies with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, who was ranked the most conservative Senate Democrat by GovTrack.us based on her 2019 legislative record.
Complicating the calculus are moderate Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney, who could potentially vote with the Democrats on certain issues.
Giving Republicans hope is that Mr. Manchin has already stated emphatically that he would not vote to eliminate the filibuster or expand the Supreme Court, and that he’s not inclined to add states.
“I don’t see the need for the D.C. statehood with the type of services that we’re getting in D.C. right now. We have representation,” Mr. Manchin said in a Nov. 10 interview on CNN. “They say … they have no voice, but they do. I’d have to hear more on that, but right now I’m not convinced that’s the way to go.”
He has also said he opposes defunding the police and the Green New Deal. His state is known for its coal, which could have implications for President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Mr. Manchin is also leery of “Medicare for All,” saying in a Nov. 9 interview on Fox News that “we can’t even pay for Medicare for some.” He’s also not a fan of socialism.
“When you’re talking about basically the Green New Deal and all this socialism, that’s not who we are as a Democrat Party. That’s not how I was raised in West Virginia,” Mr. Manchin said. “It’s not the Democrats I know, but yet we’ve been tagged — if you have a D by your name, you must be for all this crazy stuff, and I’m not.”
Mr. Manchin isn’t all talk: He voted to confirm Supreme Court Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, but not Justice Amy Coney Barrett, citing the precedent of adding a justice shortly before an election. He did support her nomination to the circuit court.
Both he and Ms. Sinema voted in favor of impeaching President Trump. He has said he wants to “fix” the Affordable Care Act, and would favor “adjustments” to raise the 21% corporate tax rate, saying that “25% would be a great place for us to stop.”
Asked by Fox’s Bret Baier if he had considered changing parties, Mr. Manchin sidestepped the question, saying that “I’m a proud moderate conservative Democrat. Maybe there aren’t many of us left, but I can tell you this country wants moderation.”
In an increasingly fractious political world, Mr. Manchin prizes old-school collegiality. His Wednesday statement emphasized the importance of restoring “regular order” to the Senate and inviting “vigorous and respectful debate on the issues that matter.”
“Above all, we must avoid the extreme and polarizing rhetoric that only further divides the American people — I will work tirelessly to make sure we do,” Mr. Manchin said. “It is time for Americans to move closer together.”