Why so many lobbyists are courting Senate Democrat Joe Manchin

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Daniel Strauss
·3 min read
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An increasing large number of lobbyists and outside groups in America all have a similar target: Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

And it’s understandable why. In a Senate where Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities a vote by Manchin, the most conservative Senate Democrat, can decide whether legislation is signed into law or left to meander in political purgatory in Congress.

Manchin has also demonstrated a willingness to buck the majority of the party on priority proposals and key votes. He was one of the first senators to oppose Neera Tanden’s nomination to direct the Office of Management and Budget. He has vehemently resisted the idea of changes to the filibuster. He was also early out of the gate in opposing a minimum wage increase as part of Joe Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus bill.

Many progressive Democrats see Manchin as a stubborn obstacle to their agenda. Others in the party afford him some slack. He’s managed to retain a Senate seat in West Virginia as the state has drifted away from electing Democrats and become more reliably Republican.

But one thing is clear: Manchin is the Senate Democrat to lobby.

The Service Employees International Union and Poor People’s Campaign met with him in February to try to move him on a $15 minimum wage. The liberal outside group Indivisible has been running radio ads in West Virginia, urging Manchin to support Washington DC becoming a state. According to lobbying disclosures Humanity Forward, a group aligned with Democratic mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, hired lobbyists to push the West Virginia senator on supporting “targeted installments of stimulus payments”.

Earlier this month, The American Working Families Action Fund launched digital and TV advertising targeting Manchin and Senator Susan Collins of Maine on infrastructure.

Manchin is one of the senators being targeted by a string of advocacy groups on voting rights. Part of a joint advocacy campaign by the End Citizens United political action committee, the Let America Vote Action Fund and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to push key senators to support Democrats’ For the People Act.

Conservative groups are also trying to push Manchin. The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity is airing radio ads calling on Manchin not to shift his position on the filibuster or adding seats to the supreme court. Those ads on talk radio direct listeners to an AFP-backed site.

Ken Cuccinelli, a former deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, is leading a group called the American Principles Project alongside the Susan B Anthony List to reinforce a set of conservative Senate Democrats’ opposition to overhauling the filibuster. The partnership is called the Election Integrity Initiative. Manchin is one of those senators being targeted.

“When Manchin says good things about it we engage with positive reinforcement in West Virginia,” Cuccinelli said in an interview. “We haven’t been doing attacking on it.”

Cuccinelli said his initiative have had events at all Manchin’s offices. “As between trying to drag him down now or support a path he’s on that’s a positive path, we’ve chosen to support a positive path,” Cuccinelli added.

All the activism and lobbying might suggest Manchin is particularly malleable to pressure. If anything Manchin has fueled frustration – especially among progressives – for how firm he’s been on some issues.

Nick Rahall, a former member of Congress for West Virginia said Manchin is not immovable. Rahall said Manchin just “needs his space”.

“He needs his room to maneuver and Biden’s willing to give it to him, [Senate majority leader] Chuck Schumer’s willing to give it to him,” Rahall said.

Rahall added that Manchin can be convinced to change his mind. Rahall pointed to Manchin, in the end, voting for the Biden administration’s huge coronavirus relief bill. “He had concerns about it, he got an amendment accepted and he voted for it. He came down on Biden’s side after appearing initially – not totally against the bill but having concerns,” Rahall said.