Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is looking at a possible exit from the Senate, and his decision could be a significant factor in which party controls the majority in 2021.
The centrist senator, often frustrated, has gone so far as to tell colleagues he may leave the upper chamber before the end of this Congress, or after the 2020 elections.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) keeps close ties with Manchin, and the senators have a good working relationship. While Schumer acknowledges that his West Virginia colleague can get exasperated by dysfunction in the Senate, he believes Manchin is content and engaged in his job.
But Manchin says he’s deeply irritated with the lack of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill. Passing bills has now largely become an afterthought in the 116th Congress.
Manchin said that supporters in West Virginia are pressing him to run for governor next year, and he’s considering it.
“I have people back home that want me to come back and run for governor. We’re looking at all the different plays. I want to make sure whatever time I have left in public service is productive,” he told reporters.
Asked if he’s happy with how productive he is in the Senate, Manchin replied, “Not at all.”
“I haven’t been happy since I’ve been here. I’ve always thought there was more we can do. It’s the greatest body in the world, so much good could be done,” he said of the legislative stalemate.
Manchin is 71-years-old and has compiled a successful record as governor from 2005 to 2010. He was reelected to a second term in 2008 but left before finishing his term after winning election to the Senate seat long held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).
Manchin talks often about his fondness for his time as governor. He doesn’t think his current Senate job is nearly as fulfilling. The Senate has spent most of 2019 churning through President Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees, rarely voting on bills that have a chance to become law.
Schumer has accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of turning the Senate into a “legislative graveyard.” But Republicans bash Schumer for delaying nominees that some Democrats eventually support when they finally come up for a vote.
Manchin’s patience reached a breaking point shortly before the Memorial Day recess. The Senate finally finished debating a disaster relief bill that many lawmakers thought should have passed weeks earlier.
A Democratic senator, who requested to remain anonymous, recalled Manchin getting thoroughly fed up and threatening to retire before the end of the 116th Congress.
“He said, ‘I’m out of here.’ He was all pissed off and said, ‘I’m going to be out of here,’ ” the lawmaker said.
Schumer was spotted talking to Manchin soon after he vented his frustration to colleagues, but it’s unclear what they discussed.
Democrats control 47 seats and need to capture a net of four Republican-held seats — or three if they also win the White House — to regain the majority.
That goal is made more difficult by the fact that Sen. Doug Jones (D) faces a tough reelection in Alabama, which Trump won with 62 percent of the vote in 2016.
If Democrats lose West Virginia in 2020 or 2022, their quest for the majority becomes even tougher.
Senate Democrats hope Manchin stays in Washington, even though they know he’s tempted by another stint as governor.
“He had a helicopter and an airplane and all that stuff when he was governor. That’s not this job. This job is different from that,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who also represents a
Republican-leaning state and called Manchin “a good friend.”
“When things get tough, you don’t quit. You double down and keep going. I think Joe’s that kind of guy,” he said.
If Manchin runs for governor in 2020, it could make it hard for Democrats to keep his Senate seat. Trump won West Virginia by 42 points in 2016.
A Democratic strategist and former senior Senate aide said Manchin is the only candidate who can keep the seat in Democratic hands. The strategist said if Manchin doesn’t keep the seat, the chance of another Democrat winning a Senate race in the Mountain State is “less than zero.”