West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has navigated the changing politics of his home state by crafting an image of an independent-minded, moderate Democrat. Despite his occasional bipartisan bluster, however, he is as reliable a vote for progressives and President Obama as any other Senate Democrat. His public advocacy for the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General puts a lie to his well-crafted maverick myth.
Last week, Sen. Manchin joined every other Senate Democrat as a signatory to a letter demanding swift action on the Lynch nomination. Senators from the same party as the President ordinarily support Executive appointments and nominations. That’s simply an exercise of basic party loyalty. One would hope, though, that the loyalty demands of a party would count less when there is a matter of principle at stake.
At the end of last year, Manchin publicly urged President Obama to refrain from issuing an executive order granting amnesty to certain illegal immigrants. “I just wish he wouldn’t do it,” Manchin said at the time. “I just think we ought to work through this process and, with the new elections and the results of the elections, we ought to try in January to see if we can find a pathway to get something accomplished.”
Not only are Obama’s executive actions on this issue constitutionally suspect, they are politically unpopular, especially in Manchin’s home state. A recent poll finds West Virginians opposed Obama’s action 75 percent to 20 percent. Its not surprising, then, that Manchin would issue sound-bites opposing the action.
Lynch, however, supports Obama’s actions and, presumably, would defend those actions in court if the situation arose. Because his vote is critical to approving Lynch, though, Manchin’s “maverick” character has gone silent on the issue. Manchin only opposes Obama’s amnesty action until the point that opposition would actually mean taking action.
He has made something of a career out of hoping the people of West Virginia believe what he says and ignore what he actually does.
In the special election to win his Senate seat in 2010, Manchin famously released an ad, “Dead Aim,” showing him shooting a copy of Congress’ “Cap and Trade” bill. He promised to “take on this Administration” and protect the state’s vital coal industry. He ended the ad by saying the regulations were “bad for West Virginia.” It is perhaps the only truthful thing he said in the ad.
Manchin spoke out strongly against President Obama’s executive orders to impose strict regulations on the coal industry, issued in 2013, when it was clear the new regulations wouldn’t pass Congress.
“The regulations the president wants to force on coal are not feasible. And if it’s not feasible, it’s not reasonable,” he said at the time. “It’s clear now that the president has declared a war on coal. It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology.”
The public doesn’t know Lynch’s specific views on Obama’s executive actions on coal, because Sen. Manchin never publicly asked her. Nor do we know her position on a host of executive actions Obama has planned for the remainder of his presidency. The nation’s Attorney General would likely defend these actions in court, yet Manchin has given no indication is the least bit interested in her views on these matters.
We do know that Lynch supports Obama’s proposals to ban “assault weapons” and other gun control measures. Manchin’s support of gun rights was apparently so central to his political philosophy that he staged an entire campaign commercial around the subject. Sadly for West Virginia gun owners, campaign commercials don’t vote in the Senate. Joe Manchin does.
Should Obama take executive action to impose his policy prescriptions on gun owners, Manchin will no doubt issue press statements opposing such action. By providing the critical vote to approve Loretta Lynch, though, Manchin will have already done as much as Sen. Dianne Feinstein to ensure those new gun control regulations are enforced.
Manchin’s demand that the Senate swiftly approve Loretta Lynch as the Administration’s lawyer, without using his position to extract any concessions on any executive orders, means that West Virginia may as well be represented by Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer or Bernie Sanders.
These three know what West Virginians don’t yet understand. Notwithstanding his “moderate” musings to the press or voters at home, Manchin is a loyal Democrat foot-soldier. He can publicly oppose President Obama on amnesty, gun control, coal regulations or any of a host of impending executive orders, as long as that opposition is confined to campaign rhetoric and not on the floor of the Senate when it would count.
“Independent-minded” Republican politicians who will break with a Republican President or their party on an important issue are so common one wonders if the Sunday talk-shows have dedicated staff to schedule those interviews. Lynch’s entire nomination, in fact, seems predicated on enough Republicans bucking their party to approve her.
Manchin’s calculus is much simpler, albeit dishonest. He only has to buck his stated beliefs and fall in behind his party. In today’s Democrat party, the image of an independent, “moderate” Democrat, crafted so carefully by politicians like Manchin is as real as the “jackaloupes” nestled in the Appalachian hills.