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One of the few Senate Democrats who has Trump’s ear is feuding with Mike Pence

Sen. Joe Manchin: “The Vice President’s comments are exactly why Washington sucks.”

President Trump Addresses The Nation In His First State Of The Union Address To Joint Session Of Congress
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) makes his way to the House of Representatives Chamber for the State of the Union Address.
Pete Marovich/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)’s friendly relationship with the Trump White House may be coming to an end.

Manchin is one of the few Senate Democrats who has Trump’s ear; he’s a red-state Democrat up for reelection in 2018 in a state where Trump won by 42 points. Manchin was the only Democrat to stand and applaud during Trump’s State of the Union, and he and colleague Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) were the lone Democratic lawmakers to be invited to the White House for a meeting after the government shutdown ended last month.

But never one to mince words, Manchin is punching back after Vice President Mike Pence tore his voting record apart at an annual GOP retreat in West Virginia on Wednesday and openly suggested that the state needs a new senator.

“I looked [Manchin] in the eye and I told him, Joe, the people of the mountain state are counting on you,” Pence said a speech at the GOP retreat in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. “And I said, let’s get this tax cut done together. But Joe voted no. Joe voted no to give working families more of your hard-earned money.”

Manchin was not happy.

“The Vice President’s comments are exactly why Washington sucks,” Manchin said in a statement issued by his office on Wednesday night.

Manchin’s voting record is at the heart of this fight

Manchin may be a moderate, red-state Democrat whose vote is gettable for Republicans, but his voting record shows him reliably sticking with the Senate’s Democratic caucus this year, for the most part.

This is something Pence was only too happy to point out at the GOP’s annual retreat in Manchin’s home state. Giving a speech Wednesday night, Pence took the opportunity to slam the senator over his vote against the Republican tax bill and call for him to be replaced. Pence told Politico’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer that Republicans will be active in Senate races in states including West Virginia and Indiana.

Pence continued to attack the rest of Manchin’s voting record in his speech on Wednesday:

Sen. Joe Manchin has voted no time and again on the policies West Virginia needs. When the time came to repeal and replace the disaster of Obamacare, Joe voted no. When we empowered West Virginia to defund Planned Parenthood, Joe voted no. And when it comes to that wall when we’re gonna build on the Southern border, Joe said, quote, ‘Well, I’m not voting for the wall either.’ Folks, Joe’s just gonna keep voting against West Virginia. Now that might make Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi pretty happy. But West Virginia needs to let him know you expect better from Joe.

Manchin responded by accusing Pence of fomenting partisan attacks and highlighted his own record of trying to work across the aisle; most recently in the large group of moderate senators that came together to reopen the government after last month’s shutdown.

“I am shocked that after the Vice President worked for almost a year in a divisive and partisan way to take healthcare away from almost 200,000 West Virginians, bankrupt our hospitals, and push tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and huge corporations that he would come to West Virginia and continue his partisan attacks,” Manchin said in a statement.

He concluded, “The Vice President’s comments are exactly why Washington sucks.”

Despite his tendency to swing across the aisle, it’s true Manchin has voted with Democrats to help kill the GOP’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act — saying the repeal bill would have massively hurt West Virginia voters. And he and other red-state Democrats all voted against the massive Republican tax bill. This is notable since 12 Democrats voted for the Bush tax cuts in 2001 (Manchin was elected to the US Senate in 2010).

Manchin’s vote on the tax bill was gettable. He told Politico last year that his vote was a “very easy pickup” for Republicans. But as he told Vox in November, one huge reason he voted no was that Republican senators didn’t even try to include him or other moderate Democrats in tax discussions.

Other red-state Democrats including Sen. Claire McKaskill told Vox they had received no phone calls, emails, or visits from Republicans on the tax bill.

And Manchin was clear that he thought the GOP plan was bad policy that would increase the national deficit and be worse in the long run.

“My god, I’ve tried to — we’ve done everything,” Manchin said in an interview in November. “If you’re asking me to assume another trillion and a half dollars of debt, plus, tell me who gets the most benefit from that? I’m explaining to the West Virginians right now that this bill was not put together in a bipartisan way. The way the bill was put together by the leadership of the Republican Party is that corporations get permanent [cuts] and individuals get temporary.”

Pence’s speech was a shot across the bow for 2018

Clearly fed up with Washington politics, Manchin was reportedly considering retiring from the Senate when his term is up this year. But he recently put Democratic fears to rest, telling colleagues he will be running in 2018 after all.

Manchin is up for reelection in a state that is fiercely loyal to Trump; voting for Trump by 42 points in 2016. Manchin and other red-state Democrats including McCaskill and Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN). Manchin told Politico’s Edward Isaac-Dovere that President Trump has urged him to switch parties, to which Manchin responded that Trump needed to do more to win over conservative Democrats. (The state’s governor, formerly a Democrat, switched parties last year and held an event with Trump.)

There’s currently a contentious Republican Senate primary in the state, with candidates including Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV), West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, and coal baron Don Blankenship, who was convicted and did jail time for violating mine safety laws.

Manchin is still relatively popular in his state, but a recent Morning Consult poll found his approval numbers dropping. Manchin’s race will be a test of whether West Virginia voters prioritize loyalty to Trump over the senator’s style of pragmatic, bipartisan politics. Pence’s speech shows that Republicans are zeroing in on the senator in 2018, but he doesn’t seem anxious about his chances.

“Not one iota am I worried,” he told Politico.