"I don’t know where in the hell I belong," Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday when asked about possibly switching parties amid his stubborn bargaining with frustrated fellow Democrats and President Joe Biden.
Manchin said people approach him "every day" about doing so, and that it would be an easy decision. But he insisted he won't, speaking out in a revealing interview at the Economic Club of Washington with David Rubenstein.
"Is that the purpose of being involved in public service? Because it’s easy?" Manchin asked. “Do you think by having a D or an R or an I is going to change who I am?” he said, adding he didn’t believe Republicans would be any more pleased with him than Democrats are right now.
He called being the only statewide Democratic public official in his home state "very lonely," but said he understands why his constituents mostly vote for Republicans.
"My little state has never complained. We’ve done all the heavy lifting -- we’ve done the mining, we’ve made the steel, we’ve done everything it took for this country to be the superpower of the world," Manchin said. "And all of a sudden they took a breath and looked back and we’re not good enough, we’re not clean enough, we're not green enough, we’re not smart enough, so to hell with you. So, they said, 'Well, to hell with you, too.'"
With Democrats holding onto a razor-thin margin in the Senate, Manchin has emerged as a pivotal player in Democratic efforts to pass the president's agenda.
He said he doesn’t think there is anything "fun" about being the decisive vote in the Senate -- but it’s led to breakfast meetings at Biden’s Delaware home and given him the upper hand in driving the direction of the massive social spending package, including what amounts to a veto power over provisions he doesn't like.
That includes sticking to a much lower $1.5 top-line price tag for the social spending package he set at the start -- something Democrats and Biden are still negotiating with him about this week, months later.
He commented on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's decision in June to use the fast-track budget process known as reconciliation to bypass Republican blocking efforts.
"I don’t think we should be running the government through reconciliation, because it’s not lasting," Manchin said he told Schumer.
He also reaffirmed Tuesday that he’s opposed to changing the Senate's filibuster rule -- just days after Biden himself suggested he could support exceptions for fundamental Democratic priorities such as voting rights and election reform -- and maybe more.
While that would give Democrats breathing room to pass key agenda items, without Republicans keeping the measures from even getting a vote, Manchin said it's important that the minority party retains some political power and that all sides pursue bipartisanship.
And he offered some behind-the-scenes color about how he's been bargaining with Biden, who's eager to secure his support.
"The president and I had this conversation, I said, 'Mister President, I don't know who put this out, but that's screwed up,'" Manchin said, speaking about a proposal to help pay for his spending plan by having the IRS track annual transactions of $600 or more from individual bank accounts. After GOP backlash, the administration last week backed off the idea to catch tax evaders, raising the triggering amount to more than $10,000.
Manchin wasn't happy.
"Do you understand how messed up that is?" he said he told the president. "This cannot happen. It’s screwed up."
"He says, 'I think Joe's right on that,'" Manchin told Rubenstein. "So, I think that one's going to be gone."