Manchin says he's staying put; talks guns, immigration and climate

Sen. Joe Manchin

Charleston – Senator Joe Manchin announced Tuesday he won't run for West Virginia governor.

Manchin, a conservative Democrat, had held that position prior to running for senator in a 2010 special election following the death of United States Senator Robert C. Byrd.

"You always think about going home,” Manchin said.

But Manchin said he felt he could most help West Virginia by remaining in the Senate, adding that he has a "national audience" there.

"I’m able to brag on West Virginia all the time," he said. "When they do the crazy stuff that they do on a daily basis, I’m able to say ‘back home in West Virginia, we don’t do things that way. We weren’t raised that way.' "

In 2018, Manchin defeated West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, by about three percentage points, allowing him to keep his position in the United States Senate for another six years. 

But Manchin, who frequently criticizes the partisan culture in Washington, D.C., had acknowledged that he was considering running for governor. The 2020 West Virginia gubernatorial election will be held on November 3, 2020.

In a Tuesday afternoon news conference at the West Virginia Lottery building in Charleston, where the senator has offices, the senator talked about the rationale behind his decision, then took reporter questions. 

Ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Manchin took a question about his plans to address climate change. Ranking members are second to chairpersons in level of seniority. 

Manchin acknowledge that humans impact the climate, a conclusion shared by climate scientists.

"First of all, anybody that denies that the climate’s not changing is not being honest to themselves or being factual," he said, "and next of all, I understand those who don’t believe that humans have been involved. They think it’s cyclical and it’s going to happen anyway. I don’t think that anyone could deny that within the last half a century to a century, that the cycles have been much more severe and much more frequent. With that, 7 billion people going on 8 billion make an impact every day on the climate. We have a responsibility. Can we do it better? Yeah."

But he distanced himself from more liberal members of Congress who are advocating for the elimination of all fossil fuel use. Some of those members are also advocating for spending money on jobs and infrastructure to assist coal communities in the transition.

In 2018, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that coal use needs to drop to 0 to 2 percent by 2050, along with other drastic changes in energy usage over the next decade, to reach a new goal of limiting the global warming increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees Celsius. They said doing so "could result in around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves" and "limit risks of increases in heavy precipitation events (including hurricanes and floods) on a global scale,"  among numerous other protections.

Manchin said America could be a leader or a denier, but he wouldn’t be an “eliminator” of fossil fuels.

"The difference between me and other people, they – I’ve got some groups, and some on my side of the aisle that are further left than I am, I’m in the middle, and they want elimination, eliminate fossil, eliminate coal, eliminate gas," he said. "That’s not the real world." 

He said that even if the United States discontinued use of fossil fuels, other developing counties wouldn't.

"You have to think about, where were we in the 1930s," he said. "I can tell you my grandparents didn’t care how they were able to turn the light switch on. They were just happy to have electricity to turn the light switch on.

“What the United States of America has to be a leader in is the technology – show them, here’s how you can use it, and use it a heck of a lot cleaner and better. And in order to entice you to use this new technology, we’re going to do different trading deals with you. That’s where you use the force of your economy, and I would hope to be part of that.”

Manchin was asked about the ongoing global refugee crisis. According to the United Nations, the world is experiencing the highest number of people displaced from their homes, due to war, other violence or persecution, in history. At the end of 2018, an unprecedented 70.8 million were displaced. Meanwhile, refugee admissions to the United States have drastically declined under the Trump administration, to just 30,000 in fiscal year 2019.

Manchin said the crisis was "troubling" but "because of the hyper-politics that’s going on right now, they’re afraid to speak out. So when I see something that I know that I’m involved with, it’s in my committee, I can speak truth to power very easily as long as it’s done in a respectful way."

Manchin said he would support letting more in "“If they come in the right way." Refugees go through more stringent vetting than any other type of immigrant to the United States. 

"Give me your tired your huddled masses," he said. "I think there’s a proper way to come through. I think our borders need to be secured. I’ve always been for securing the borders."

He spoke in support of background checks for gun ownership.

"We need to make sure that the public is not scared to have to go in a public arena or send their child to a sporting event or whatever, not knowing if they’re going to be safe," he said. "That’s not who we are in America."

Manchin made a case for keeping him in Congress. He pointed to the time it takes to build enough seniority to serve as ranking member on the energy committee.

“All of those things being said, it’s extremely, I think extremely important for me to be able to speak truth to power also,” he said, “so when things don’t make sense, I can speak out. I can say the things I think need to be said and I can speak in a way that I think has always been respectful. When I agree with the president, I support him, and I’ll say that. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican. 

“If it doesn’t make sense, I don’t ridicule and call people names just because I disagree with them,” he added. “I basically am able to say with all due respect Mr. President, I would hope that you would look at this a little differently because I don’t think the direction you’re going is really good for our country or good for the world if you do. And I think you need that because right now it’s so toxic and so polar that everybody now is name-calling. It’s just I hate you for this reason, this reason… Disagree with me, help me make it better.”

In making his decision to stay in the Senate, Manchin also considered his role on the appropriations committee, where he said he could ensure West Virginia receives its "fair share." 

“With that, I’m at peace, I’m at ease with this,” he said.

When asked about another Democrat, West Virginia gubernatorial candidate Stephen Smith, Manchin stopped short of an endorsement, but said Smith was a "fine young man" who he had a good relationship with during Manchin's time as governor. He said he hadn't looked into Smith's political proposals.

Smith used to serve as executive director of Our Children, Our Future, a liberal group that organizes for anti-poverty issues.  

Smith is one of 13 people in the gubernatorial race, including current Democrat-turned-Republican Governor Jim Justice, whom Manchin once supported; Woody Thrasher, a Republican, an engineer and entrepreneur whom Justice ousted as commerce secretary over the department's response to the June 2016 flood; and former West Virginia Delegate Mike Folk, a Republican perhaps best known for saying Hillary Clinton should be "hung" on the National Mall. 

Email: ebeck@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @3littleredbones

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