The day after he announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election—a decision that could hand control of the U.S. Senate back to Republicans and the presidency to Donald Trump—Sen. Joe Manchin visited Athens to extoll the virtues of bipartisanship.
The West Virginia Democrat did not directly address his decision not to run again in his increasingly red home state during his Friday appearance at UGA, nor rumors that he could run for president on a third-party ticket that would siphon support from Joe Biden.
Manchin did say that civility and working together on issues is more important than partisanship. Calling the Senate “polarized,” he said he often angered his Democratic colleagues by signing on to Republican bills or refusing to support Democratic challengers against GOP incumbents he respected.
“I didn’t get involved in politics because of party affiliation,” he said during a discussion at the UGA Chapel. “I got involved in the political process because I wanted to change things in our system.”
Manchin noted that 120 of the 134 state legislators in West Virginia are now Republicans in a once solidly blue state. “They’re all good people,” he said. “Most of them were Democrats when [my political career began].”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was originally scheduled to appear, but in his place was former Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who like Manchin had a reputation for working across the aisle. Blunt said bipartisan support is essential to get anything passed in the Senate—and to ensure it’ll stick once power changes hands. “I’m not going to be part of any bill that’s not bipartisan, because it won’t go anywhere, and if it does it won’t last,” he said.
Manchin is perhaps most famous for spiking Biden’s Build Back Better package of social and climate spending, which morphed into the much smaller Inflation Reduction Act. On Friday, Manchin maintained that Build Back Better overreached, but praised the bipartisan infrastructure law and the CHIPS Act, which funds domestic microchip and semiconductor manufacturing.
The two senators appeared as part of the first Isakson Symposium on Political Civility, which UGA plans on hosting annually. Johnny Isakson—who served 14 years in the U.S. House, ran unsuccessfully for governor, won a Senate seat in 2004 and died in 2021—was famous for his saying that “there are two types of people in the world: friends and future friends.”
Both senators paid tribute to Isakson, his even temperament and his sense of practicality. “He liked to get things done,” Blunt said. “And it didn’t have to be perfect. He was focused on the best possible solution.”
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