Reasons to cheer Joe Manchin

by Lynn Schmidt

Three centrist cheers for Sen. Joe Manchin III. Manchin’s stance on three key issues may be unpopular with some of his Democratic colleagues but they are popular with Americans.

Manchin recently has met the ire of Democrats in the inflation-versus-climate action debate. He has chosen the more immediate kitchen table issue of inflation. Manchin had been in negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a broad deal but was waiting on more information about where the economy was headed. Last week, he told Democratic leaders that he would not support an economic package that contains new spending on climate change or new tax increases targeting wealthy individuals and corporations.

After release of new economic indicators showing a 9.1% inflation rate, Manchin said to Schumer, “Why can’t we wait a month to see if the numbers come down structurally? How do you pour $1 trillion on that tempo with inflation?” Manchin was hoping to watch and wait for 30 to 45 more days, but the Democratic leadership lost its patience.

Manchin’s spokesperson, Sam Runyon, said: “Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation soars to 9.1%. Sen. Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, reevaluate and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire.” Manchin did go on to say that he is open to provisions that aim to lower prescription drug costs for seniors and for extending subsidies that could help keep health insurance costs down for millions of Americans.

Manchin’s stance exploded in news media coverage. The Washington Post’s front page declared, “Manchin once more puts Biden in a bind.” The New York Times said, “Manchin Again Has Democrats Fuming.” The Guardian’s headline said, “Anger as Manchin kills Democrats’ climate plans. … What Happens Next?”

Members of his own party have been outspoken and rage tweeting. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said on ABC’s “This Week”: “In my humble opinion, Manchin represents the very wealthiest people in this country, not working families in West Virginia or America.”

In fact, though, inflation is a top concern for not only working families but for all Americans. According to a May Pew Research poll, 70% of Americans view inflation as the biggest problem the country is facing. Climate change came in at 42%.

In the same poll, 51% of respondents cited gun violence as a major issue facing America. Manchin and his fellow West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, were among the 65 senators who voted for the Safer Communities Act. The bill was a bipartisan step to address gun violence by passing a measure that includes encouragement for states to implement “red flag” laws and investments in mental health services.

The final of the three issues where Manchin meets the middle is on the issue of abortion. Manchin released a statement shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade reiterating his opposition to abortion as a Catholic, but he has “come to accept that my definition of pro-life may not be someone else’s definition of pro-life. I believe the exceptions should be made in instances of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. But let me be clear, I support legislation that would codify the rights Roe v. Wade previously protected.”

Manchin’s refined stance on abortion seems to reflect the electorate’s as well.

Of course, Manchin is answerable to his West Virginia constituents and not the broader electorate. Lucky for him, he’s popular, with 57% of West Virginians approving of his job. That approval rating nearly doubled from its previous measure among Republicans, reaching 69%. Donald Trump carried West Virginia by nearly 40 points in 2020.

Democrats who are raging against Manchin should step outside of their ideological bubbles and instead take a lesson from him. Moderate, thoughtful, nuanced positions are popular, and they are what most Americans want.

Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.