(THE PICKET) – A Democratic senator in a Republican state, Sen. Joe Manchin defended Monday his support for President Trump’s cabinet nominees in a Skype interview at Shepherd University.
“They like to play up this red and blue state so much. Vulnerable means that I’m going to be different, I’m going to vote differently, I’m going to start being nice to people that I don’t like- that’s what they’re trying to refer to. That’s just not who I am, not at all,” Manchin said.
He spoke to about 30 Shepherd Students gathered in the Robert C. Byrd auditorium March 1. Six students were allowed to query him on questions pre-approved by the senator. It was one of a series of university Skype interviews Manchin does periodically with state schools. Manchin was the only Senate Democrat who voted for former Sen. Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s attorney general, and for hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary.
“I voted for Jeff Sessions,” Manchin said, “I’m the only Democrat that voted for Jeff Sessions. I knew Jeff Sessions, I worked with him for six years. He is much more conservative than I am. I approached his vote based on past experience and his qualifications and then I started hearing his racist overtones. I did not see that in six years and if I had detected one ounce of bigotry or racism I would have been dead against him. With that being said I couldn’t find a reason to vote against him.”
Manchin noted that he asked Sessions to recuse himself in any Justice Department probe into Russian contacts with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, fired by Trump just weeks into the administration.
“I called Jeff Sessions and told him to remove himself because he knows Mike and they had a friendship and campaigned together for Donald Trump. Now we are supposed to be investigating him to see if he shared secrets with the Russians. I do not think he could be an unbiased litigator and he needs to remove himself. If he continues to defy all of it, I will take a different stance,” Manchin said.
His vote for U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Steve Mnunchin, was the same as his vote for Jeff Sessions, Manchin said.
“Steve Mnunchin promised to work on tax reform, which I think is extremely important to our country. If those two fail to live up to what I believe they should live up to, I will be the first to ask for their resignation or impeachment,” Manchin said.
Manchin faces reelection in 2018. West Virginia favored Trump in the November election by 68 percent, with just 26 percent of the state’s residents voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton. In 2012, Manchin won election when GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney took West Virginia by 62 percent. That year President Obama won 36 percent of the West Virginia vote. While Manchin is considered by many among the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2018, he disputes that.
“You would think I would be extremely vulnerable, right. I won by 25 percent There’s a 60 percent swing between what I won by and what he won by between the different parties,” he said.
Manchin said that people in West Virginia, including himself, vote based on if they know the candidate
“I call myself a West Virginia democrat,” Manchin said, “I was raised in a coal mining town and I assume that I was Democrat to begin with because my family were Democrats and everyone I knew were Democrats and I saw all of the good that came from them and I felt good about that,” he said. “I am a little different from what you would call a Washington Democrat or a national Democrat. With that being said, I have never been concerned with parties, when people voted for me they voted for me and who I am. My brand is Joe Manchin and that is I am financially responsible and socially compassionate. My identity is a Democrat because that is what you need to be a political party. I’ve always felt that when things get tough, it would be the Democratic Party fighting for the people.”