Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia is facing mounting pressure from his Senate colleagues to resign from his position as the co-chairman of group No Labels, according to sources familiar with Senate Democratic politics.
Democrats have been increasingly perturbed by the actions of No Labels, which bills itself as a force for bipartisanship in Washington. In the spring, the group raised hackles when it endorsed Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in his race to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado. Tensions escalated over the summer after Yahoo News reported the group was planning for a GOP takeover of the Senate. Such a takeover, the group suggested, could create more political gridlock, which would give No Labels an “opportunity” in its mission to fight gridlock by having more to fight.
A fresh rift emerged Monday, when Real Clear Politics reported that No Labels was sending field staff to Colorado to aid “independent Get Out the Vote efforts” on behalf of Gardner. Gardner and Udall are locked in one of the tightest races in the country, in one of the key states at stake in Republicans’ bid to win the Senate majority.
No Labels’ decision to double down on its support of Gardner with just days left before the Nov. 4 midterm puts Manchin in an even more awkward position than he was in this spring. According to a senior Senate Democratic source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about one of the party’s caucus members, the opprobrium Manchin could face if he does not soon step down from the No Labels chairmanship could be intense.
“He’s got to turn to his own colleagues and listen to them say, 'Joe, what are you doing?'” the source said. “How can I trust you? How can I have any confidence in you? You give your name to this group and they’re out being overtly partisan against one of our members.”
The Gardner issue is an especially sore spot because he was among the top 10 most conservative members of the House in 2012, voted against raising the debt ceiling multiple times over the past three years, voted for the 2013 government shutdown, is a sponsor of a federal personhood bill and is a member of the House Republican conference that blocked immigration reform.
On No Labels itself, the source said, “You just kind of roll your eyes at them — they’re kind of like a fly or a gnat that just won’t go away. They’re looking for relevance and it’s pathetic. They’re out there with this twisted logic that Cory Gardner is going to be more bipartisan than Mark Udall.”
Another Senate Democratic aide confirmed that rank-and-file members are beginning to reach out to Manchin’s office to encourage him to step aside from his leadership position in the group.
Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has not yet gotten involved in trying to mitigate the tension between Manchin and his colleagues, Senate leaders are likely to bring up members’ involvement in outside groups after the election. Leadership has been known to shame members during Democrats’ weekly luncheons, often calling them out by name.
In a statement, Manchin communications director Jonathan Kott said the senator was unaware of the No Labels field effort until it was reported by Real Clear Politics Monday. Manchin supports Udall in the race and will take up the issue of No Label’s support for Gardner with the organization directly, Kott said.
“Senator Manchin 100 percent supports Senator Udall and will do anything he can do to help him win his election, because he believes that moderates like Senator Udall can help move this country forward,” Kott said. “Senator Manchin just learned about the actions of No Labels and does not agree with this approach. He is going to discuss this with No Labels and will take the appropriate actions.”
Manchin’s office declined to say whether the senator is considering stepping away from the group, and No Labels did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its moves in Colorado.
No Labels is a tax-exempt nonprofit, which under tax law means its primary activity must be the “promotion of social welfare” and not political activity. Tax-exempt groups are barred from coordinating directly with political campaigns. They are also not supposed to contribute items of value directly to campaigns, such as airfare between Washington, D.C., and Colorado.
Real Clear Politics reported that No Labels promised to cover volunteers’ travel costs to Colorado, where ballots already were mailed to registered voters Oct. 14.
Many groups that operate in the same political sphere as No Labels have a separate political wing, known as an independent expenditure arm, which directs their political funding. There is no Federal Election Commission record that No Labels has such an affiliated group.
Charles Spies, an attorney at the firm of Clark Hill who emailed Yahoo News on No Labels' behalf, said the group did not need such a wing.
“No Labels is permitted to engage in independent political activity and does not need to ‘have an IE,’ but the organization will report with the FEC any expenditures that require reporting,” he said in an email.