Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell huddled on the Senate floor, engaging in a deep face-to-face conversation on Thursday just days after a report said the West Virginia Democrat was mulling flipping political parties.
It also comes amid Manchin’s opposition to portions of President Biden’s $1.75 trillion spending plan that threatens to scuttle the entire package.
Biden delayed a scheduled overseas trip on Thursday to meet with Democrats on Capitol Hill to try to salvage the legislation and to call on them to put aside their differences and vote for its approval.
Amid the fast-moving events of the day, Manchin and McConnell remained in conversation on the Senate floor for 21 minutes, with each stopping to listen to the other, as other lawmakers milled about the chamber.
Video feed of the Senate from CSPAN showed McConnell (R-Ky.) standing in the front of the chamber casting a no vote on the confirmation of Omar Williams as a US District Court judge in Connecticut.
Moments later Manchin walked into view and voted to confirm Williams, then paused to take off his mask.
He then walked over to the Senate minority leader, grabbed him by the right arm and leaned in to say something.
The two senators stood there for a few seconds, holding each other’s arms, before Manchin motioned for McConnell to join him at the GOP leader’s desk.
Manchin and McConnell sat down shoulder-to-shoulder, and Manchin started talking, gesturing with his hands and using his iPad at times to emphasize a point he was making.
Several times, Manchin reached over to touch McConnell gently on the arm.
Later in the powwow, the West Virginia Democrat turned to face McConnell more squarely and leaned in closer.
At one point. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stopped in front of the desk as he cast his vote and then glanced back at the pair.
David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, joked that the two senators were, “Talking about college football, obviously.”
Manchin’s office didn’t immediately respond to request for a readout on the conversation.
A report last week said Manchin was considering ditching the Democratic Party and becoming independent over disagreements he was having with Democrats and Biden over the $1.75 trillion bill.
The report in Mother Jones said Manchin has already worked out a departure package.
Manchin, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is a crucial vote in the 50-50 divided Senate for the plan and has been demanding concessions in what provisions the bill contains and how it is paid for.
After the Mother Jones report came out, Manchin said he had “no control” over rumors and rejected it as “bulls–t.”
A few days later, Manchin expanded on the claim.
“The only thing that was ever said that we’ve ever talked about – if I’m an embarrassment to my Democratic colleagues, my caucus,” he told reporters outside the Capitol.
“I said, me being a moderate centrist Democrat — if that causes you a problem, let me know and I’d switch to be independent,” Manchin said.
McConnell said in an interview in June that he doesn’t foresee Manchin leaving the Democrats.
“Well, Sen. Manchin has pointed out over and over again he’s been a Democrat all of his life. I am certainly not anticipating that he’s going to cross the aisle,” McConnell said during a Fox News interview, when asked about the possibility.
“But I do admire his willingness to protect the Senate as an institution,” McConnell added.
Manchin, a former governor and the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Mountain State, also rejected speculation in July that he was going to switch parties after Democrats expressed their frustration with his opposition to scrapping the legislative filibuster that would allow them to pass legislation with a 51 vote majority.
“If switching a party, or whether you have a ‘D’ by your name or an ‘R’ by your name changes who you are as a person, then you’re in the wrong profession, and it’s all about you and not about the oath you take to the office, the oath to the Constitution, to protect and defend,” Manchin told Fox News’ “Special Report.” “That shouldn’t be a party affiliation, that should be all of us.”
But Fox News’ host Brett Baier pointed out that President Biden lost every county in West Virginia during the 2020 election and asked Manchin about his allegiance to the deep-red state and the Democratic Party.
“I’m here because of West Virginia,” Manchin said. “I’m here because of every person in West Virginia. I love my state as much as anything in the world, not quite as much as my family, but not far behind. I would do anything for my state of West Virginia.”
Manchin also beat back speculation by political commentators that he would likely switch parties if the 2016 national election left the Senate tied at 50-50.
“That’s what goes on in Washington and I guess New York and the pundits,” Manchin told WSAZ. “I thought they had enough drama last night they didn’t need to bring me into it, but I heard they did, and they started calling me, and I said ‘no way.’ “
With Post wires