Thursday’s news cycle, which put Attorney General Jeff Sessions through the wringer, could have also been tough for Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
Generally seen to be the most at-risk of the Democrats up for reelection next year, Manchin has voted for most of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees — and he was the one Democrat who voted to confirm Sessions. And early in the morning, progressive protesters rallied at the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to demand that Manchin be removed from his post-election leadership role in the party.
But on an extraordinarily busy day, Manchin seemed to skate by. The quick sequence of events demonstrates how he did so. The progressive protest didn’t attract much media attention, and Manchin’s effort to establish relationships with Breitbart reporters — a focus of the protest — gave him favorable coverage on the right.
Act I. At 9 a.m. Thursday, representatives of progressive groups converge in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. Once they’re all through the metal detector, they put together boxes for the 225,000-odd signatures they’ve gathered from activists who want Manchin booted from Senate Democratic leadership. They include leaders of CREDO, WeWillReplaceYou.org, 350 Action and Democracy for America. They walk up the stairs, enter Schumer’s office and begin singing the protest song “We’re Gonna Rise Up” to Schumer staffers.
“Not only did Senator Manchin vote for the president’s unqualified nominees,” says WeWillReplaceYou co-founder Yong Jung Cho, “but he joined Republicans in voting against necessary environmental protections for vulnerable West Virginians.”
Act II. As he heads into the Senate for the day’s first votes, Manchin tells Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak that Sessions should resign if the story is true.
“I voted for him because I did trust him, absolutely,” Manchin says. “And I’ve said, point blank, when it came out about the Mike Flynn investigation, I called Jeff and said, ‘Jeff, you should recuse yourself — get the heck out of the way!’ And he said he would take the matter into consideration. And I said, ‘you better do more than take it under consideration — you should do it.’ ”
Act III. Breitbart runs an exclusive story with a very different read on Manchin’s reaction: that he was calling the dogpile on Sessions “premature.”
“I told Jeff, first of all you should recuse yourself because of the investigation into Mike Flynn and basically, it’s pretty clear that if you all have a relationship, you all worked on the campaign, just put some distance, OK?” he tells Breitbart’s Neil McCabe.
“You have to go where the facts go, if the facts go and Jeff intentionally misled — and that’s proven — or he intentionally lied? He’d have to resign,” Manchin said.
By noon, few people were aware of the protest; readers of mainstream news sites thought that Manchin had become a Sessions critic; and readers of Breitbart believed that he had refused to join the anti-Sessions mob. Meanwhile, Manchin cast votes to confirm Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy.