Joe Manchin’s Reign As King of America Is Over

The glory years of Manchin holding the key to federal legislation are over.
Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Virtually everyone in Washington, DC, has reason to have mixed feelings about the results of the 2022 midterm elections, seeing the better-than-expected Democratic performance and the death of the Democratic Trifecta. But for West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, the glass probably seems half empty rather than half full. Yes, with the Democrats hanging on to the Senate, he gets to keep his chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is money back home. And he won’t be subject to punishment from a vengeful Senate Republican majority that blames him for brokering the Inflation Reduction Act instead of just killing the entire Biden agenda. But the loss of the Democratic House cut off the flow of legislation that required Democratic unanimity in the Senate, which gave Manchin great power (and, to a lesser extent, Kyrsten Sinema).

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In other words, Manchin is not the “King of America.” In the 118th Congress there will be no bill for the reconciliation of the budget without any problems. if President-to-be Kevin McCarthy even thought about one, it should be defenestrated immediately. So the source of Manchin’s extraordinary influence was dammed up. There’s not much he can do for Chuck Schumer, or much Schumer can offer in return, to continue the West Virginian’s highly transactional relationship with the Democratic Party. And that, in turn, means he can’t tell the people he represents that they need him in Washington to shake the Democrats out of their favor.

And unfortunately, unless he just decides to retire (after all, he’s 75, which used to be a bit past retirement age), Manchin will soon be trying to explain to the heavily Republican people in his state why they still need to. it’s around. . His second term ends in 2024, and the first of what could be several Republican challengers, Representative Alex Mooney, has already announced his candidacy. Manchin won re-election in 2018, defeating Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey by 3.3 percent. But he didn’t win a majority, and 2018 was a very good year for Democrats. 2024 will be a presidential year; Donald Trump won 68.5 percent of the West Virginia vote in 2016 and has managed his vote up to 68.6 percent in 2020. There is no reason to predict a Democratic revival in the state two years from now. Back in 2012, another presidential year, Manchin ran 25 points ahead of Barack Obama to win his first term by a landslide. But that’s been a long time coming, and it’s unclear exactly what Manchin will offer his constituents that a GOP successor couldn’t do better and more consistently.

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Manchin has some time to build a renewed legacy in the Senate before deciding whether to stay or leave in 2024. Even though he has frustrated them, Democrats are praying he will run again; they have zero chance of holding onto his seat with another candidate, and they are in the landscape to keep control of the Senate will be more difficult in 2024. There is a lot for Manchin to think about in quiet moments on his houseboat during the holidays after a session lame-duck during which he can have one last hurray as America’s king in a Democratic-controlled Congress.

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