Joe Manchin Called Our Reporting “Bullshit.” Now He’s Got a Different Story.

And he still doesn’t have it right.

Andrew Harnik/AP

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When Mother Jones reported on Wednesday that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) had told associates he was considering quitting the Democratic Party and had a specific plan on how to do so, he told Capitol Hill reporters the article was “bullshit.” He was wrong. The sourcing was impeccable. Now he has shifted his stance and come up with a cover story—and that, too, is inaccurate.

In an interview with The Hill‘s Steve Clemons, who is a personal friend of Manchin (and of mine, too), Manchin said of the Mother Jones article, “What he reported is simply untrue… I’m not threatening to leave. Why would I? I’m very secure in my positions and honestly, I’m not the one stressed out.” Clemons writes:

“What is true,” Manchin told The Hill, “is that I have told the president, Chuck Schumer, and even the whole Caucus that if it is ‘embarrassing’ to them to have a moderate, centrist Democrat in the mix and if it would help them publicly, I could become an Independent—like Bernie—and then they could explain some of this to the public saying it’s complicated to corral these two independents, Bernie and me.” 

Manchin characterized his offer as an effort that would help Biden and Schumer better explain the different perspectives in their caucus to Democrats

Manchin made a similar statement to Fox reporter Kelly Phares on Thursday morning.

Manchin’s spin has moved from a complete denial on Wednesday to a yes-but on Thursday, with an explanation that depicts Manchin as a senator generously considering a departure from the Democratic Party only to help Schumer and the other Democrats.

But that’s not what Manchin privately told associates in recent days. According to people who heard Manchin discuss a possible exit from the party, he described it as a move that would have happened if negotiations between himself and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other Democrats over President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion social infrastructure bill broke down. Manchin has privately stated that he will not accept a Build Back Better package larger than $1.75 billion, and he has opposed key provisions, including Medicare and Medicaid expansion, an expanded child tax care credit, and measures to address climate change. The negotiations are still under way.

Explaining the farewell from the Democratic Party he was contemplating, Manchin recently told associates the first step would be for him to resign from his Democratic leadership position. (He is vice chair of the Senate Democrats’ policy and communications committee.) Then he would wait a week or so before taking the final step of changing his voter registration from Democrat to independent. He did not refer to this plan as a move to assist Schumer and the Democrats. He described it as a way to send a signal. 

Manchin tells Clemons and Phares that if he were to leave the Democratic Party, he would not switch to the Republicans and would continue to caucus with the Democrats, which would allow them to retain control of the Senate. That is not inconsistent with how he talked to his associates about a departure from the Democratic Party. He told them that he would call himself an “American Independent.” 

Manchin clearly was stung by the Mother Jones report. And in damage control mode, Manchin called BS on himself. Yet whether or not he was serious about leaving the party to influence the ongoing negotiations, he now is on the record saying that is not an option. 

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