Jill Biden visits West Virginia with the most powerful man in America, and it’s not her husband

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US First Lady Jill Biden greets members of the West Virginia National Guard with Senator Joe Manchin, his wife Gayle and actor Jennifer Garner during a trip to Charleston, W.V. on May 13, 2021.   (Oliver Contreras/Pool via REUTERS)
US First Lady Jill Biden greets members of the West Virginia National Guard with Senator Joe Manchin, his wife Gayle and actor Jennifer Garner during a trip to Charleston, W.V. on May 13, 2021. (Oliver Contreras/Pool via REUTERS)

Jill Biden travelled to West Virginia on Thursday with the most powerful man in America. Her husband, the president, remained in Washington DC.

The First Lady paid a visit to a high school in Charleston to promote vaccines for young people with Senator Joe Manchin, upon whom the hopes of the Biden administration’s ambitious agenda rest.

Mr Manchin, arguably the most conservative Democratic lawmaker in a Senate where the party holds a majority of one, today wields enormous influence over the direction of the country as the White House seeks his support to fund infrastructure and jobs programmes.

His vote would be necessary to achieve the threshold needed to pass budget reconciliation measures if a deal is not reached with Republicans.

That has made him the subject of a full-on charm offensive in the past week. He returns to his home state fresh from a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House this week to discuss infrastructure. His wife, Gayle Manchin, was recently appointed by the president as co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development partnership between the federal government and 13 states.

“Senator Manchin, you’ve been a champion of West Virginia and you’ve always found ways to bring people together. Your integrity and commitment to this state is steadfast,” Dr Biden said at the event on Thursday.

Dr Biden highlighted work done by Save the Children in funding programmes for young children in the state. She was joined by actress Jennifer Garner, an ambassador for the organisation.

Joe Biden has made passing an infrastructure bill a key priority after passing Covid relief. His administration is currently exploring a bipartisan deal with Republicans that would be passed with a vote in the Senate. Republicans have balked at Mr Biden’s $2 trillion proposal and instead pitched something closer to $800m.

But Democrats have also kept open the possibility of funding infrastructure through budget reconciliation, which would require just Democratic votes to pass. As the most conservative senator in the Democratic Party, representing mostly a conservative state, Mr Manchin’s vote is seen as crucial.

Speaking to reporters before the event, Senator Manchin said he was hopeful that a deal could be struck.

“We’re going to find a bipartisan way forward. We have to,” he said. “We’re working with everybody.”

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