Manchin Willing to Back Some Trump Nominees

Manchin Willing to Back Some Trump Nominees
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Sen. Joe Manchin is doing something most of his Democratic colleagues aren’t willing to do: He’s said he will back several of President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial Cabinet officials. 

Manchin earlier this month said he would support Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general – making him potentially the only Democrat to do so – and Thursday he introduced Rick Perry at the  former Texas governor’s  hearing to lead the Department of Energy, calling him “uniquely qualified” for the position.

The conservative Democrat isn’t suggesting he will back every Trump nominee – he has indicated concerns about some, notably Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services – but said he wants to give deference to Trump to put his team together. Manchin also pointed out that he has personal relationships with Perry and Sessions, which went a long way toward gaining his support despite opposition from most Democrats.

“I put an awful lot of weight on my personal relationships,” Manchin told RealClearPolitics in a brief interview before he introduced Perry. “I think that’s what we lack in the political arena today. The collaboration, the collegial approach that we should have to each other and try to work in an atmosphere that really builds some understanding and friendship.”

Manchin’s support could lend key credibility to some of Trump’s nominees, preventing them for being confirmed on strict party-line votes. He supported Sessions back in November, when many Democrats were hoping to stall that nomination. As for Perry, he said governors have a “special bond” – Manchin led West Virginia from 2005 to 2010 -- and added that he is confident Perry could handle the job even though he faced tough questioning from several Democrats during the hearing Thursday.

Manchin made clear he won’t be bothered if he’s the only Democrat to back some nominees. “Never have had concerns about that,” he told RCP. He also declined to criticize his colleagues when asked if they were taking the wrong approach by being highly oppositional to most of Trump’s selections.

“No, I never prejudge them. I respect every one of my colleagues and how they approach it and how they’re going to make their decisions, and I hope they respect me.”

Some Republicans are encouraged by Manchin’s stance, and hoped that he would support other nominees and that other Democrats would follow his lead.

“I, for one, appreciate his approach, and of course introducing Gov. Perry sends a very strong message,” said John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican senator. “I hope he can be a calming influence on some of the more partisan members of his party.”

So far, that seems unlikely. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said his party is prepared to confirm only retired Gen. James Mattis to lead the Department of Defense and retired Gen. John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security after Trump takes the oath of office Friday. Manchin hasn’t signaled support for either, but he did join many Democrats voting for a waiver allowing Mattis to serve despite being too few years removed from the military.

Republicans have been calling for as many as seven nominees to be confirmed Friday – to match the number of Obama appointees confirmed on inauguration day 2009 -- but that appears extremely unlikely. Schumer accused Republicans of trying to “jam through” Cabinet nominees.

When the process does creep forward, however, Manchin will be a key Democrat for Trump’s administration and Republican leaders aiming to get some bipartisan support for appointees. Most of his colleagues appear opposed to Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department, for example, but Manchin said in December that while he had some concerns about the nominee, the former Exxon CEO’s close connection with Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn’t among them.

Other nominees might have a tougher time getting his support. Manchin said on CNN Thursday that Price’s purchases of stock in companies related to his legislative work was “troubling,” but that he was more troubled by Price not guaranteeing to continue funding to combat the opioid crisis, which has led to serious problems in West Virginia and other states. He also criticized Price’s past efforts to privatize Medicare, but wouldn’t say those issues were “disqualifying.”

“This basically is my reason I might not be able to vote for him,” Manchin said. “…But, you know, we'll see what happens. … I watched his interviews and basically we're getting snips of everything he said and seeing how it runs in conflict of what we believe and who we represent. So, we'll see.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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