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Sen. Joe Manchin on why he can't endorse Trump, but isn't sold on Biden

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) (R) talks to reporters between votes at the U.S. Capitol.
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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) (R) talks to reporters between votes at the U.S. Capitol.

At 76, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin waves off the concerns of some of his colleagues about a candidate's age and how it might affect their ability to carry out the responsibilities of office.

"I don't look at age," the Democratic senator told NPR's Michel Martin. "I look at [candidates] person by person. And with Joe Biden, every time I've been with him, we've talked, I've had no problem whatsoever."

He is, however, reluctant to back the president in the 2024 election.

"I'm hoping that the Joe Biden that I know, the Joe Biden that I've known for a long time will come back," Manchin told Morning Edition.

As a self-described "conservative Democrat," Manchin has frequently played spoiler to some of Biden's key legislative initiatives — in 2021 he refused to supportthe Biden administration's Build Back Better bill, even after the White House made multiple concessions in an effort to assuage his concerns. He similarly withheld his vote from Biden's federal voting rights, climate-change agendas andtax reform policies by refusing to join with fellow Democrats in an evenly divided Senate.

"I can tell you it's difficult being in the middle," Manchin said. "A 50-50 Senate, it's not an enviable place to be at all."

Last week, the senator announced that he won't be running for the presidency in 2024 after flirting with a third party bid for months. During his announcement, he declined to endorse Biden or any other candidate, although he did offer praise to Donald Trump's lone GOP rival, former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

"I think Nikki is spot on," Manchin said, regarding Haley's remarks critical of Trump in a speech on Tuesday.

Manchin joined Martin days after announcing his own decision not to seek the presidential nomination in 2024. He spoke of his legacy after 15 years in elective office, and his hesitancy to endorse another 2024 presidential hopeful — at least for now. Below are some of the highlights from that interview.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

On why he isn't planning to run for president

It's hard with the Democratic Party and Republican parties being the businesses that they are in Washington today, and I mean businesses, these are big billion-dollar businesses that have picked their product and pretty much have gone in the direction of choosing who they think that would be their strongest product, if you will. And that's what they're going to go with. And I, I just don't fit in the Democrats' process and they are doing things or the Republican process. I've always been independent minded.

And so I thought about that. And I've been with the No Labels group since 2010, because I think they're a wonderful group. They are trying to always give an opportunity for that middle minded person to have a venue. I've appreciated that they've been working and moving towards putting a unity ticket together. I think that it's trying to give an option, which is good. I just believe right now this timing wasn't right for me and I didn't want to be a spoiler.

On why he won't support President Biden

I think President Biden and his team have to look around them and ask, how did he win in 2020? Look at the rhetoric that was used back then. It's not extreme. Everything that was said and everything he showed people was what he'd done through his experience being in the Senate and then being vice president. And [voters] said, "Yeah, this man is more moderate than most, he's easy to work with. He looks at the facts and makes decisions." That's what he had been known for. And now I think people believe that he has gone too far to the left.

I think [we should be] putting ourselves back in a moderate, centrist position where people feel comfortable — they don't think they're being pushed and being overregulated. They don't think that you have the finger or your thumb on the scale and are moving things too far to the left.

I think about how we deal with how we deal with crime in this country, how we deal with the border, how we deal with the fiscal responsibilities that we have. I think that no one's taking the debt of this nation as seriously as they should. I think the greatest challenge that we have is getting our finances under control. And that means you just can't spend like a drunken sailor.

[Biden's team] keeps playing to the base versus where the voters are going to be. This next election will be decided by moderate, centrist, independent voters. They're not talking to them.

On why he won't support former President Donald Trump

I have said there's no way I could support or vote for Donald Trump. I think it would be very detrimental to our country, and to our world standing. We have enough things in upheaval.

I just thought it was horrendous when a former president could not have condolences to a family that lost a 47-year-old husband, a father and a son in a country that basically just eliminates their opposition. And when former President Trump couldn't even say 'my heart goes out to the Navalny family,' it's wrong. There's nothing right about this. But he keeps very silent and doesn't say a word. It seems like he kind of admires the people that operate and govern that way, such as Putin. It scares the bejesus out of me.

I would consider anyone that truly puts their country before themselves and wants to bring people together. But you when you start denigrating and villainizing other people. And when hatred and revenge is going to be basically your mode of operation. That's not right. There's nothing normal about that.

On the legacy of his last term in Congress

It's a shame to go out and the 118th Congress will go down as absolutely the least productive Congress in the history of the United States of America. That's a sad scenario. Only 39 bills have been passed so far. We usually pass an average of about 523 bills every two years.

The 117th Congress was one of the most productive and one of the most monumental 118th will be the worst. And that's a shame.

I have been very adamantly supportive of trying to give every American a chance to have a quality of life, no matter what the race to matter what their religion, no matter what their sexual preferences. But when you try to normalize, those are on the extremes which might be on a different path or taking in life, that makes it hard. When [the government] tries to push that into the mainstream, people reject it. And that's not the government's role. And I've said this all my life. I never have believed the government would be my provider. Government was my partner, whether it be local, municipalities, local, county, local and a state government. They were not my provider, nor did I expect them to be. But I hope [government] had the compassion and the moral values of helping those who couldn't help themselves. That's basically who I am and what I've always tried to do and what I always will do.

The audio version of this interview was produced by Kaity Kline and edited by Mohamad ElBardicy. The digital version was edited by Jacob Conard.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mansee Khurana
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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