By Alex Thomas
MORGANTOWN — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin will begin the week with a crucial meeting.
West Virginia’s lone Democratic member in Congress will be the first Democrat to meet with President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
With Republicans holding only a 51-49 Senate majority, Kavanaugh could face a slim margin.
Democrats portray the nominee as a figure who may outlaw abortion and reduce gun restrictions, but Manchin vowed to remain open-minded.
“When he was first announced for someone to say you are either for or against, then they are just playing politics,” Manchin said. “They’re not sincere about trying to find out what the best idea you may have or the best info we might get from him on how he might lean.”
Manchin cited Kavanaugh’s rulings on health care, for example, as something that would require research. The judge has more than 300 rulings to his resume.
“We’ll meet Monday and be able to go through all of the concerns,” Manchin said. “I’ve had over 2,000 inquiries from West Virginians saying, ‘Please ask this. Please check this out.’ We’ve assembled all that, we’ve gone through his record, and we have questions assembled to ask him.”
Groups rallied on both sides of the ideological divide to persuade Manchin, who admitted Democrats don’t have leverage to hope for a liberal nominee.
“He’s conservative,” Manchin said. “He’s going to be center or center right. The Democrats are not in a majority. The President is not a Democrat now. So the Democrats can’t expect for them to get somebody that’s going to be center or left. It’s not going to happen.”
Striking a note as the centrist, Manchin said he’s not feeling any pressure from other leaders or outside groups to vote in a particular manner.
“I’m not getting that pressure because they know it doesn’t work on me,” he said. “Now other people, they think they can sway them? They might. A lot of money is being spent on television. I would have recommended they saved their money because I am going to make what I think is the best informed decision.”
Ad buys promoting Kavanaugh’s confirmation are moving through West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana and Alabama.
That’s curious to Steph-anie Carter, a Marion County resident. She and members of Marion County Indivisible and Mountaineers for Progress rallied in front of Sen. Manchin’s Fairmont office to urge him to vote against confirming Kavanaugh.
“Brett Kavanaugh has made statements against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” she said. “And he went out of his way to dissent on the issue of net neutrality, and right now what we’re seeing is a lot of heavy ad buys to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. Any time you do a Google search of Brett Kavanaugh or look at your social media ads, you’ll see ‘vote yes on Kavanaugh.’ I would just encourage people to ask who is purchasing these ads and what would their motivations be.”
That rally featured about 50 people, fairly larger than a rally earlier this month that featured a communications official from the Republican National Committee.
“Manchin should get behind it and stop the political games,” said Brett Tubbs, West Virginia communications director for the Republican National Committee. “The people have spoken. You can run around and say that you’re trying to figure out what West Virginians want to say. By electing Donald Trump, they did say.”
Manchin said he wants a Supreme Court Justice who will follow legal intent of laws over individual interpretation.
“If we can get in the center, stay in the middle, someone who basically looks at the rule of law, looks at the Constitution, and rules on the laws that we pass — the intent of those laws, not the interpretation that he would like or she would like,” he said. “That’s what you look for in a jurist.”
How the state’s Senior Senator chooses to vote, he said, will come down to one major point.
“After I get clarification, after we see what he testifies under oath and what he’s told me (in this meeting), putting all that together, and I’ll make