President Biden’s charm offensive with Sen. Joe Manchin III was on full display Thursday as first lady Jill Biden flew the West Virginia Democrat and his wife Gayle on an Air Force One-style plane to a vaccination event in their home state with actress Jennifer Garner.
At Capital High School in Charleston, Mrs. Biden reminded the audience that she is a “political spouse.” Then she got down to politics.
“Sen. Manchin, you’ve been a champion for West Virginia and you’ve always found ways to bring people together,” she said, addressing the man of the moment.
She wasn’t finished.
“Your integrity and commitment to this state is steadfast,” the first lady said. “Joe and I are so grateful to you and to Gayle for the friendship that we’ve built over, I don’t even know how many years it’s been, but it’s been a long time.”
Mrs. Manchin was sworn in last week as the new chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a $160,000-a-year post to which the president appointed her.
Mr. Manchin, a centrist whose pivotal vote is needed for Mr. Biden’s tax-raising and spending plans in the 50-50 Senate, spoke of his desire to end “tribal politicism” in Washington.
“Tribal politicism is awful,” he said. “I don’t care whether you’re on the right or left … we all come together to identify a problem, we all come together to cure a problem.”
Mr. Biden didn’t win a single county in West Virginia last November and garnered just 29.7% of the vote, compared with former President Trump’s 68.6%.
On the first lady’s ride from the local airport to the school, her motorcade passed people holding signs proclaiming, “244 years shot to hell in 100 days,” “West Virginia Did Not Choose Biden” and “Welcome Jill.”
Mrs. Biden’s press secretary, Michael LaRosa, said in all apparent seriousness that the first lady’s office invited Mr. Manchin on the flight because West Virginia is his home state.
The special flight and high-profile visit by the first lady came three days after the president hosted Mr. Manchin for an hour-long talk at the White House on moving his agenda, including another $4.1 trillion in domestic spending.
Mr. Manchin told reporters his conversation with the president was “encompassing,” but said they didn’t discuss his resistance to Mr. Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
Asked whether he requested any favors from the president, Mr. Manchin replied, “When there’s a friendship, there’s no ‘asks.’ He wants things to happen, I agree with him. We talked about everything. It was just good all the way around.”
In Charleston, the first lady and Mr. Manchin were joined by Ms. Garner, who grew up in West Virginia, to promote COVID-19 vaccinations for adolescents. Ms. Garner, who said two of her three children with former husband/actor Ben Affleck will be vaccinated next week, had campaigned for Mr. Biden last fall.
Mrs. Biden arrived in Charleston without a mask, her plane landing shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that masks aren’t needed for those who’ve been vaccinated. She joked to reporters that she felt “naked.”
She said there is a “fair amount of misinformation out there” about the safety of the vaccines, and urged people to ask their doctors if they have concerns.
“Health and safety aren’t red issues or blue issues. They’re community issues,” Mrs. Biden said. “Right now, getting vaccinated is the most powerful thing that any of us can do, young or old, to strengthen our communities.”
Noting that adolescents age 12 and older are now eligible for the vaccine, she told students, “The clouds are finally breaking. Spring feels more beautiful than ever and the best is still to come. Let’s get to a safe and fun summer together.”
Ms. Garner said people are “thrilled to just be getting back to normal.”
“I kind of can’t believe I’m standing here without a mask on, looking at maskless faces,” she said. “We owe that to President Biden, and we owe that in large part to [Republican] Gov. [Jim] Justice. We have got to get anyone with vaccine hesitancy into these chairs and get a shot into their arms.”
She also praised Mr. Biden’s “enormous commitment” to spending more on early childhood development, saying the U.S. is “so far behind” other countries.