By HOPE YEN
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the Democrats’ most conservative and contrarian members, declined on Sunday to endorse Joe Biden if the president seeks a second term in 2024 and refused to say whether he wants Democrats to retain control of Congress after the November elections.
In a round of appearances on five news shows, the West Virginia senator also expressed hope that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., will back a Democratic package of climate, health care and tax initiatives that he negotiated. She joined Manchin last year in forcing cuts and changes in larger versions of the plan, and support from every Democrat in the 50-50 Senate — plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote — is needed to overcome anticipated unanimous Republican opposition in votes expected this week. Sinema has declined to tell reporters her stance.
“I would like to think she would be favorable toward it,” he said.
But beyond that, Manchin demurred when pressed about supporting his party or its nominee for president in upcoming elections.
“I’m not getting into 2022 or 2024,” he said, adding that “whoever is my president, that’s my president.”
Manchin said control of Congress will be determined by the choices of voters in individual states, rather than his own preferences. People “are sick and tired of politics,” he said, and want their representatives in Washington to put country over party.
The senator faces reelection in 2024 in a state where Donald Trump prevailed in every county in the past two presidential races, winning more than two-thirds of West Virginia’s voters. But in distancing himself from fellow Democrats, Manchin also tried to decry the rise of partisanship and suggested America’s path forward will need to move beyond traditional party-line politics.
His national TV interviews culminated a high-profile week in which his compromise with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., revived a package of White House priorities on climate, health care, taxes and deficit reduction. Manchin had torpedoed a grander plan last December and previously lowered expectations about a substantial agreement being reached.
Both he and Sinema were previously aligned in opposing plans from Democratic senators to spend as much as $3.5 trillion on a climate and social justice bill. Sinema, however, was cut out of the most recent discussions on the bill, which would narrow the so-called carried interest loophole, bringing in $14 billion of the proposal’s $739 billion in new revenues. Sinema has previously opposed doing that.
Manchin said Sunday he did not brief Sinema or anyone else in the Democratic caucus on negotiations because of the risk that discussions would fall through. Acknowledging he has not tried to speak to Sinema since announcing the deal, Manchin said there were plenty of reasons she would be “positive about it.”
He said the plan, the “Inflation Reduction Act,” would help with manufacturing jobs, reduce deficits by $300 billion, lower prescription drug prices and accelerate the permitting process for energy production.
Sinema “has an awful lot in this piece of legislation the way it’s been designed as far as the reduction of Medicare, letting Medicare go ahead and negotiate for lower drug prices,” Manchin said.
He defended the 15% minimum tax on corporations with $1 billion or more of earnings as closing “loopholes,” rather than an outright tax increase.
“I agree with her 100 percent we’re not going to raise taxes, and we don’t,” he said.
Schumer wants Senate passage this coming week, though he acknowledged that timeline is “going to be hard” because it will take time for the chamber’s parliamentarian to make sure the bill conforms to Senate rules.
In the House, Democrats have a 220-211 edge, with four vacancies, leaving little margin for error for passage.
Manchin offered praise for Biden in regard to the bill because “you don’t do a bill this magnitude and this size without the president knowing what’s going on, the president being involved in, to a certain extent, but also giving approval.” But in midterm elections, voters often reject the party that holds the White House and this year, Biden’s unpopularity and rising inflation are creating strong headwinds for Democrats.
Manchin demurred when asked whether he hoped Democrats would keep their majorities in Congress.
“I think people are sick and tired of politics, I really do. I think they’re sick and tired of Democrats and Republicans fighting and feuding and holding pieces of legislation hostage because they didn’t get what they wanted,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to predict what’s going to happen.”
Manchin appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week,” “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.