CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin claims he’s facing no pressure from fellow Democrats to oppose U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“If I can come home and explain it, I vote for it. If I can’t explain it, I don’t vote it,” he said during Friday’s forum at the West Virginia Lottery Building. “It’s as simple as that.”
Manchin, D-W.Va., met with representatives of multiple organizations, including the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the American Federation of Teachers and the progressive advocacy groups Mountaineers for Progress.
Kavanaugh, nominated by President Trump to succeed the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, has met with multiple Republican senators, including Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Manchin said he expects a face-to-face with Kavanaugh within two weeks.
“The reality of politics is they’re Republicans, and the president is not going to choose anyone who is going to be left-leaning. That’s the facts of what we are dealing with,” Manchin told reporters. “I’ve got to find the best person put before me. I’m a realist, and I understand.”
Manchin was one of three Democrats who voted in April 2017 to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. His vote will be crucial again with Republicans controlling the Senate by a 51-49 margin.
Manchin downplayed facing any pressure from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to deny Kavanaugh.
Friday’s forum focused on protecting aspects of Obamacare and Kavanaugh’s positions on education, gun legislation and abortion.
Manchin has said he will evaluate Kavanaugh’s rulings regarding health care and the protections given pre-existing conditions.
“These piecemeal threats that keep cropping up, like what would happen to the pre-existing conditions, which is a huge deal in West Virginia,” said Sean O’Leary, the senior poanalyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “We’re talking half the state would be affected by that if those protections came away. That’s something we definitely don’t want to see.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 36 percent of West Virginians —some 392,000 people — have a pre-existing condition that is covered because of the federal healthcare law. Manchin said another 400,000 West Virginians could face premiums that are too expensive or coverage holes in their insurance plans.
Kavanaugh, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 2006, offered a 2011 opinion that the health care law’s individual mandate was constitutional because it qualified as a tax.
In the Supreme Court’s 2012 majority opinion upholding the healthcare law, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a similar ruling.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the Senate passed in December, repealed the individual mandate.
Manchin introduced a resolution Thursday asking the Senate legal counsel to intervene in a Texas lawsuit arguing the federal healthcare law is unconstitutional. West Virginia is one of 20 states involved in the lawsuit.
The Department of Justice has said it will not represent the United States in the lawsuit.
All 49 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus support Manchin’s measure.
“We have a lot of our Republican friends who are very sympathetic and hope that they will sign on to it,” he said. “We’ve been working as bipartisan as we can.”
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Manchin’s Republican opponent for in the November midterm election, challenged Manchin to a debate on the Supreme Court nominee.
“It is truly unfortunate and a disservice to the voters of West Virginia that Sen. Manchin has used President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee to demagogue and establish false litmus tests on issues like Obamacare and abortion,” Morrisey said. “By remaining unclear about his positions, Sen. Manchin has aligned himself with Schumer and liberal special interests in opposition to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.”
Manchin downplayed Morrisey’s remarks:
“Patrick, you’re attorney general. I’m a U.S. senator,” he said. “I’m doing my job. My job is to not make this political.”
Brett Tubbs, West Virginia spokesman for the Republican National Committee, described a vote to confirm Kavanaugh as a vote for West Virginia.
“West Virginians voted for Trump overwhelmingly,” he said. “To say that we need to figure out where West Virginians stand is absurd. This is another way to stall and delay the vote and give Schumer more time.”
Tubbs was part of a small protest outside of the state Lottery building in support of Kavanaugh.