West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters gathered in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall that President Donald Trump delivered the mail Tuesday evening in his first address to a joint session of Congress.
“It was what we needed to hear,” said Manchin, who has met with the president at the White House and offered to work with his administration where there is common interest.
“I loved the presidential tone,” he said. “The tone was good. It was exactly what we needed to hear.”
Manchin said, “This is one president who understands the business of basically how things should run. The bad business deals we have made. The bad trade deals we have made–you correct some of that, and you’ve corrected a lot of jobs.”
In the section of the speech in which the president discussed lifting the regulatory burden on the economy, he also name-checked the coal industry: “We’re going to stop the regulations that threaten the future and livelihood of our great coal miners.”
“I liked that,” the former governor of West Virginia said. “The shout out to my coal miners, they very much appreciated that — very much so.”
The senator stood for the coal mention, as well as a dozen or so other applause lines from the president — very often the only Democrat on that side of the aisle showing Trump any approval.
Most Democrats remained seated throughout the speech, which breaks what had become the custom of these addresses, whereby Republicans cheer conservative lines and Democrats cheer lines meant to please those on the left. This night, Democrats like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D.-Fla.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D.-N.J.) sat through Trump’s call for tolerance and unity against racism and the president’s offer to work with Democrats to resolve the impasse over immigration reform. Not only did the night lack the usual back-and-forth, but many Democrats refused to applaud first lady Melania Trump.
Joining Manchin more often than the rest of the Democrats were Sen. Angus King (I.-Maine), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D.-Ind.), and Sen. Jon Tester (D.-Mont.). Each of these men is up for reelection in 2018 and accordingly, they sat up front and clapped more and more as Trump progressed through his script. These three men all won in 2012 with less than 52 percent of the vote in states that Trump won (Montana and Indiana) or where he won an electoral vote (Maine).
In the 2018 midterms, Senate Democrats are defending 23 seats and the Republicans only eight. Of the 23 seats Democrats need to protect, King, Donelly, and Tester are among the most vulnerable. Although he is officially an Independent, King caucuses with the Democrats and votes their party line on procedural votes.
Manchin said what he heard from the president reflects the spirit of cooperation the senator hoped for when he went to the White House, but when it comes to healthcare reform, there is still a wide gulf.
“We still disagree on the healthcare,” he said. “I don’t think with the toxic atmosphere that we have here that you can repeal and hope to replace it–I just don’t think the votes are there.”
The West Virginian said there are plenty of lessons learned and easy fixes that could be done immediately, but they are being held hostage for the big repeal and replace move.
“I am hoping we can come to that agreement; I don’t know,” he said. “I am a ‘No’ for repeal, but I am a ‘Yes’ for repairing, sitting down and working in a bipartisan way — but, if they are hellbent on repeal, I just — I am not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Manchin is also defending his seat in 2018. Trump won the state in 2012, but Manchin won his seat in 2012 with 61 percent of the vote.