Mitch McConnell: If Joe Manchin Switched Parties, He Would Join Folks With Similar Views

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnel said that if Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin were to switch parties, "he would be joining a lot of folks who have similar views on a whole range of issues."

McConnell said Manchin "feels like a man alone."

Tensions arose between Manchin and the White House regarding President Joe Biden's social and environmental spending package. Democrats have said this is their main domestic priority for next year's elections. Tensions heightened over the weekend after Manchin said he couldn't vote for the package.

"I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I've tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there," Manchin told Fox News Sunday.

McConnell suggested the possibility of Manchin keeping his Energy Committee chairmanship in an interview Wednesday. It's unclear if Manchin is considering McConnell's comments. He has said that he sees himself as a Democrat still.

However, if Manchin were to switch parties, Republicans would gain control of the Senate, making it difficult for Democrats to pass legislation or nominations on party-line votes.

Manchin's decision to not vote on the Democrat-supported package caused White House press secretary Jen Psaki to respond, saying that Manchin gave Biden a written proposal "in person" that was "the same size and scope" as a foundation for the bill Democrats supported in October and that he agreed to continue discussions for.

"We will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word," said Psaki.

Republicans, Mitch McConnel, Joe Manchin
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell suggested the possibility of Senator Joe Manchin keeping his Energy Committee chairmanship should he switch parties in an interview Wednesday. Here, McConnell speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Building on December 16 in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The White House had basically called Manchin "a liar," McConnell said in a radio appearance on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

"It was astonishing. Usually, when you've got a member who is a little bit out of sync with everybody else, you give them a lot of love. They did exactly the opposite," McConnell said.

He said he's had conversations over the years with Manchin about his party affiliation.

"If he were to join us, he would be joining a lot of folks who have similar views on a whole range of issues," McConnell said.

One big obstacle to a party switch would be Manchin's vote in February in favor of the impeachment of former President Donald Trump for his actions during the violent insurrection at the Capitol. West Virginia voted for Trump by more than 2-to-1, and Trump has called for defeating Republicans who voted for impeachment.

But Manchin, the only Democrat in his state's congressional delegation, is popular back home. He was twice elected governor before his election to the Senate in 2010. He'll be up for re-election in 2024 should he decide to seek another term.

West Virginia is still coal country, and Democrat Manchin is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. If he were to switch parties, McConnell and the Republicans could choose a new chairman.

"That's something we have talked to him about," McConnell said. "Obviously, I'm sure he enjoyed being a chair of the committee. It's important to West Virginia, and all of those things are things we have discussed."

McConnell also addressed questions about Manchin in an interview late Wednesday on Fox News, saying he admired Manchin's stand on the social spending package.

"I think they will keep coming back to him. I've suggested a good solution to his problem would be to come across the aisle and join us where he would be treated with respect," McConnell said.

Manchin has long faced questions about his place in the Democratic Party, and the talk took on fresh urgency in October when a Mother Jones article said he had been telling associates he was seriously considering leaving the party. But six days after the article was published, while sitting down with the Economic Club in Washington, Manchin rejected the reports, saying "I don't think the Rs would be any happier with me than Ds are right now."

He added, "So I don't know where in the hell I belong."

The question has been posed to him repeatedly in the past few weeks, coming to a breaking point Monday morning, hours after he had publicly voiced his opposition to Biden's bill.

"I would like to hope that there are still Democrats that feel like I do," he said. "I'm fiscally responsible and socially compassionate."

"Now, if there's no Democrats like that, then they have to push me wherever they want."

Party switching in the Senate is rare but has been consequential. Republicans lost control of the Senate two decades ago when James Jeffords of Vermont quit the party to become an independent. Jeffords, upset with President George W. Bush's opposition to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, declared in May 2001 that he would leave and caucus with the Democrats.

McConnell said Jeffords had "become very uncomfortable on our side." He said Republican lawmakers courted him "because we were always fearful he would do exactly what he ended up doing. So, no, I mean, we certainly didn't do anything like the White House did to Joe Manchin the other day."

While all this swirls, Biden is making clear that he believes he can still reach an agreement with the West Virginian on a social spending package.

"Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done," Biden declared at the White House on Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Joe Manchin, Mitch McConnell, Parti Switch Proposal
Senator Joe Manchin’s decision to not vote on the Democrat-supported social and environment spending package has caused problems for the Biden administration. Here, Manchin updates reporters at the Capitol in Washington on September 30. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo, File