Manchin says he may vote Trump despite voting to impeach him

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Sen. Joe Manchin, during a recent town hall, defended his recent vote to remove President Donald Trump from office but told attendees he may still support the president’s 2020 re-election campaign against the Democratic nominee.

“I knew that what the president did was wrong—it was severely wrong,” Manchin said Wednesday during the town hall at the Robert C. Byrd Institute in Huntington.

Further explaining his guilty vote on impeachment, Manchin said he tried to get Republican senators to censure President Trump, but none obliged.

“I begged them,” he said. “But they’re all afraid to death because Trump’s got 73 million Twitter followers.”

Manchin said the president’s argument against impeachment was that anything the president does that is aimed toward ensuring his own re-election is acceptable, even if that means requesting foreign interference.

“When it came down to it, the evidence was overwhelming,” he said.

Manchin later told attendees he may support the president’s re-election bid in 2020.

“We did not vote for an imperialist president; that’s what history has warned us against,” he said. “But you always hope people will change; you hope they will. And you don’t know. I don’t know (who I’m supporting for president). I haven’t picked a candidate yet. I will. I’ll be involved, but I haven’t chosen one yet.”

Manchin highlighted his own willingness to work with Trump on multiple occasions throughout the town hall, including through two stories he said he may have never told publicly in the past. He also told attendees that he has “no problems with President Trump” and that the two “get along fine.”

Manchin said the president, just a few weeks after visiting West Virginia six times to campaign against the senator, invited him to have lunch, and when Manchin arrived at the Oval Office, Trump joked to Vice President Mike Pence and others, “I told you we couldn’t beat (Manchin),” to which Manchin replied, “Well, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

According to the senator, Trump also told him jokingly that he was “not being serious” when he campaigned against him.

Manchin said the president’s campaigning against him does not mean the two cannot work together on shared goals and legislation.

“I let it go,” he said. “I said, ‘Forget it,’ because I knew (Trump) could not take thinking he got defeated; he wasn’t going to do that. But no matter who the president is, I want my president to succeed. Our country does well when the president does well.”

When questioned later during the town hall about his willingness to support Trump, Manchin again said that while the two disagree on several issues, he has hope that the president will change.

“Everybody can change,” Manchin said. “Maybe the president will change, you know? Maybe the uniter will come out versus the divider.”

Responding to Manchin’s answer, the attendee who asked the initial question remarked, “Senator, that zebra ain’t going to change his stripes.”

In another instance, Manchin told town hall voters that the president had once requested that he switch to the Republican Party.

“I was in his office one time, and he said, ‘Why don’t you just change to Republican?’” Manchin said, to which he said he replied, “’You think whether I have an R or a D next to my name is going to change who I am? Why don’t you change back and be a Democrat?’”

Per FiveThirtyEight, as of this month, Manchin votes with Trump about 53% of the time. According to a 2018 Congressional Quarterly study, at that time, Manchin had voted with the president 71% of the time.

Trump has changed his party affiliation five times since registering as a Republican in Manhattan in 1987. He switched to Independent in 1999 and was a Democrat from 2001 until 2009, when he switched back to Republican. In 2011, he switched to Independent and then to Republican once more in 2012.

Less than two weeks ago, Trump tweeted that the people of West Virginia are “furious” with Manchin, who he described as a “puppet” and “weak and pathetic.”

The president also said in a tweet criticizing Manchin’s impeachment vote that the senator, who he referred to as “Joe Munchkin,” could not understand the impeachment trial transcripts.

Hours after President Trump’s tweets about him, Manchin responded with two tweets, the second stating, “I’ve read the transcripts thoroughly (and) listened to the witnesses under oath. Where I come from a person accused defends themselves with witnesses and evidence.”

Manchin said he has not spoken to the president since his impeachment vote, but he is open to having a conversation and working out their issues.

“I haven’t spoken to him,” he said. “I’m more than happy to sit down with him.”

In October last year, Manchin faced backlash from progressive Democrats for saying on Fox News that he would “absolutely not” support Sen. Bernie Sanders in a potential matchup versus Trump. He said Sanders’ agenda is “not practical where I come from.”

When Fox News’ Neil Cavuto asked again whether Manchin would vote for Sanders or Trump if Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, Manchin responded, “Well, it wouldn’t be Bernie.”

When asked Wednesday whether he would support Sanders versus Trump, Manchin said he was unsure.

”Maybe Bernie changes. Maybe Trump changes. Maybe nobody changes, and I’m in limbo,” Manchin said. “I have no idea.”

Earlier during the town hall, he told the crowd that “Bernie is just Bernie” and has stood for “the same” values publicly and privately for several decades.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]