Sen. Joe Manchin III admitted on Thursday that he had broached the topic of a party switch with fellow Democrats as a way to give them cover for his intransigence on President Biden‘s multitrillion-dollar expansion of the federal safety net.
Mr. Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat, made the admission when asked about rumors that he had threatened to bolt his party if they refused to negotiate on the size and scope of the spending deal.
After claiming there was no veracity to the rumors, Mr. Manchin said the “only thing ever discussed” was him becoming an independent.
“If me being a moderate, centrist Democrat, if that causes you a problem, let me know, and I’d switch to be an independent,” he said. But like his colleague Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont, Mr. Manchin said he would “still be caucusing with Democrats.”
“No one accepted that, and I just said: ”I’ll make that offer if you need it,’” he added.
In a later interview with The Hill, Mr. Manchin elaborated that the offer was made to help quell criticism leveled at Democratic leaders for not being able to rein him in on the spending deal.
“What is true is that I have told the president, Chuck Schumer, and even the whole caucus that if it is ‘embarrassing’ to them to have a moderate, centrist Democrat in the mix and if it would help them publicly, I could become an Independent — like Bernie — and then they could explain some of this to the public saying it’s complicated to corral these two Independents, Bernie and me,” he told the outlet.
Mr. Manchin‘s admission came one day after Mother Jones, a liberal political magazine, published an unsourced article alleging he was threatening to defect from the Democratic Party.
The magazine claimed that Mr. Manchin had “told associates that he is considering leaving” the party unless Mr. Biden agreed to cut down the $3.5 trillion social welfare bill that is being debated by Democrats.
Dubbed “human infrastructure,” the massive spending bill is poised to significantly expand the welfare state. The package, which includes paid family leave, child care subsidies and even direct cash payments, is championed by Mr. Biden as the most progressive legislation since the New Deal era.
Mr. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are the most prominent party holdouts. Both lawmakers have called for means-testing the package and trimming its overall cost.
Given that Democrats are planning to push the package along party lines in the 50-50 Senate, support from both Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema is vital for the bill to become law.