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Manchin: The Man in the Middle Moves

Jamie Stiehm on

Now I can say it: I never thought Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was as nefarious -- ahem! -- as accused by Democrats of a more liberal stripe.

I never thought Manchin was dealing in bad faith on President Joe Biden's stuck congressional agenda. The centrist took grief with good grace after Biden's major "Build Back Better" package failed. He stood almost alone against the bill, among Democrats.

"I got the ire of everybody," Manchin told reporters, of a year as the man in the middle. It's important to literally know where he's coming from: West Virginia coal country.

When July's fiery sun set, Manchin burst out as party hero, not the goat. As colleagues gave up hope of delivering real change to voters, Manchin turned up as co-author of a whopping $700 billion package on climate, Medicare, tax reform and even deficit reduction.

Remember: Manchin is a Southern Democrat, a rare breed to be handled with care. He is the last old-school Southern Democrat in the entire chamber. In fairness, he did not change since he was elected in 2010, while House progressives moved leftward.

Since last summer, Manchin's been the big man on the Senate campus, surrounded by reporters and cameras. He was maddening, to be sure, because Democratic leaders could not always count his nose in a 50-50 Senate. He was raked over the coals, so to speak.

 

The West Virginian's financial ties to coal were cause for despair and suspicion that he'd never give ground on climate.

The truth is that Manchin had a fine line to walk, coming from a poor Appalachian state, in supporting Biden's far-reaching climate policies.

Walk it he did.

Critics, give him this. Manchin showed he cared about being a Democrat, even if he invited Republicans to his houseboat parties.

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