BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — After living through and witnessing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said “something’s wrong” nationally — and he places at least part of the blame at the feet of former President Donald Trump.
“If you can still be a Trump supporter after seeing the incitement of a seditious insurrection, somethings’s wrong,” he said in an interview last week with CNHI West Virginia newspapers, also expressing hope the Republican Party can move away from Trump and find its “footing” once again.
“What he (Trump) did was absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “To me, I still can’t believe it … I was there when they attacked. I was sitting inside the building when they attacked. I heard it.”
The last such attack was in 1814, he said, by the British, and the Capitol wasn’t breached during the Civil War.
“But by God they got in this time, with the Confederate flag and every other damn flag,“ he said. “Something’s wrong.”
He lamented the trend of allegiance to an individual and not the country.
“My oath of office was not pledged to one person,” he said. “We are not a monarchy. We are not a dictatorship. We are not an autocracy. We are a Republic. That means you and I own it, we are responsible for it. Why turn it over to somebody?”
Manchin said Trump “is a master at what he did.”
“I tried everything in my power to get along with him,” he said. “I did. And I worked better with him than any Democrat for about three years.
“When the facts did not lend to what he thought the truth was and I would bring it to his attention, he would talk right through it, thinking he could make me understand that wrong was right. … I hope people come to their senses. I don’t expect them to do it quickly. But I think the Grand Old Party will come back. I hope, I am praying for the Grand Old Party to be there.”
Manchin sees widespread “tribalism” in U.S. politics.
“If you belong to the Democratic Party you are supposed to be 1,000 percent supportive of all Democrats,” he said. “… And if you are in the Republican Party, that is the tribe you are supposed to be and whatever the Republicans want to do is the right thing and the Democrats will be wrong.”
Although Democrats may have the edge in the 50-50 Senate since Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote, Manchin, who is a centrist and seen as a key figure in moving legislation in a bipartisan manner, said Republican support will still be needed.
He said he has history of bipartisanship for the 10 yeas he has been in the Senate as the “most moderate centrist lawmaker in the country right now as far as in Washington.”
“Out of 535 (Senators and Representatives), I think I am the one who votes in the middle the most, 50-50, and that’s tough,” he said. “I don’t do that intentionally.”
Manchin rankled many in his party when he voted for the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump nominee.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you change your party?’ and I say, ‘Do you think me having an R by my name or being an independent is going to change who I am or how I vote? I don’t think so.’”
Sen. Robert Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, recently praised Manchin’s approach.
“He has an independent streak, and that’s something I know the people of his state have high regard for,” Casey said in an interview. “He’s someone they know well, as someone who served in the legislature ... then as governor. He’s been in the Senate since the death of Sen. (Robert) Byrd, so the people of his state have elected him and re-elected him.”
Manchin served as Governor of West Virginia from 2005 to 2010.
“He’s someone I’ve worked with on a number of issues, especially on the Affordable Care Act’s protections for pre-existing conditions, for example, and other issues that have commonalities for both of our states,” Casey said.
Manchin said he hopes to help the country heal and urges people to work together.
“In our lifetime, we have never seen a more challenging time,” he said, recalling the 1960s with riots and unrest across the country, an unpopular war, as well as the assassinations of former Pres. John Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Attorney General and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy.
“Do you think we weren’t divided? And we made it through that,” he said. “But I have never seen the undertow I am seeing today. We are very much concerned, very alarmed by these extreme groups that you saw attacking the capitol … Some of them were truly supporters of Donald Trump and some of them were supporters of any type of chaos, using everything they can get their hands on to create chaos in America and they used Donald Trump to do it.”
But these groups are “getting footing,” he added and “we have to make sure that is quelled. If we don’t, we all are going to (have) problems.”