WASHINGTON – When Sen. Joe Manchin learned a throng of pro-Trump protestors was threatening to disrupt Congress’ count of the Electoral College votes in the Capitol on Jan. 6, the 73-year-old, 6-foot-3 former football standout said he was not ready to back down.
“My intention was to stay and fight: ‘Let ‘em in. Let’s go at it.’ But I didn’t know what was going on,” the West Virginia Democrat told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview. “You had a lot of people chanting. I didn’t think anything of that. But within 10 or 15 minutes, a SWAT team comes in with all of their gear and says ‘You guys are out of here. Just go now. Don’t even stop.”
Manchin was a rare Democrat who had a friendly relationship with former President Donald Trump, At one point, there were reports the president wanted to name him as his energy secretary (which would have given West Virginia’s Republican governor a chance to fill Manchin’s Senate seat), but the senator withdrew his name from consideration.
Manchin would sour on Trump, voting to impeach the president twice, including in February on a charge he incited the Jan. 6 mob to attack Congress. Trump was acquitted both times.
West Virginia’s senior senator told USA TODAY he still can’t believe the events that unfolded that day as Congress affirmed Joe Biden’s presidential victory. Although he had already determined by the time of the insurrection that the former president was a divisive force, Manchin said the events of Jan. 6 still stun him.
Manchin sat down in his Capitol Hill office with USA TODAY to discuss several topics, including Trump’s rhetoric that he said contributed to the Jan. 6 attack, his ability to pare back some of Biden’s progressive agenda, and his insistence that the Senate filibuster remains despite pressure from Democrats to do away with it so any bill could pass with 51 votes instead of 60.
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Manchin: “I heard the Trump rhetoric forever. I got along well with Donald Trump. We had a good rapport. He called me all the time. We talked back and forth,” he said.
But “he liked conflicts and he liked that turmoil. And that’s fine if you’re in business. But for public service, it doesn’t work. The whole principle of public service is to bring people together to get a consensus. And Donald Trump’s not made that way. So when I started coming to that conclusion, I’m thinking that’s just a lot of rhetoric. I didn’t know there was that type of fever and pent-up hatred in people he allowed them to unleash.”
Manchin: “That’s a tremendous responsibility that he has, and he’s trying to bring everybody together. I know he wants to. I know it’s in his DNA. And I would like to see that. The first piece of legislation (COVID-19 relief), I knew when he came out with that that he had to have something to get done because we had COVID. We had people losing their employment. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. My better judgment was let’s do something that we can agree on – bipartisan. But he had a bigger mission and I understood that. He comes out as the president. He wants to show his strength.”
Manchin: “I talk to everybody. I have dinner with everybody. If I can find a pathway forward, we’re going to find it. You can’t find it unless you know people and unless you truly want to be a friend and want to work in an honest way, not a gotcha moment.
Manchin: “Now we’re in a situation we don’t have that urgency (unlike COVID-19 relief), that time sensitivity, that ‘We gotta do this. We gotta do infrastructure.’ Infrastructure should have been done 10, 20 years ago. It’s not like a do-or-die right now. We can fix it, we should fix it, but it should be based on infrastructure.”
Manchin: “There’s an awful lot put in there, and that would be fine as an aspirational reach. But it might be more than what we can do and get enough votes to do it. Now what they (Democrats) want to do is just get rid of the rules and do what you want to do. But if you do that, just think of the swings every four years as things change – or every two years.”
Manchin: “Politically, more than anything else. How fragile we are. How close we came to losing our country.”
Manchin: “It gave me more determination (to fight for it). If you want to lose it completely and you want to be a government that was not how we were formed to try to form a more perfect union – not perfect, but more perfect – this is not the way to do it.”
Manchin: “It wasn’t what it’s meant to be. Why do you think (former West Virginia Democratic Sen.) Robert Byrd put the Byrd Rule in? To try to keep them within the guardrails. It’s not for that. And if they want to get exemptions so they can use it as much as they want to run this Congress, can you imagine when our Republican friends get in control? And it’ll happen. It’ll go full circle again.”