WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Vice President Pence urged Republicans lawmakers, gathered here at a luxury resort for their annual policy retreat, to sell voters on a year of prosperity and policy triumphs as the midterm elections approach in November.
Pence's remarks came less than 24 hours after Trump delivered a State of the Union address and not even 12 hours after a jarring accident threatened to upend the GOP's yearly confab. The chartered Amtrak train lawmakers boarded Wednesday morning struck a garbage truck in Crozet, Va., killing one of the workers on board the truck and forcing those on board the train to disembark onto buses to complete their journey.
Pence told lawmakers to find comfort in their religious faith, after highlighting the GOP's recent tax bill, which has prompted many companies to deliver bonuses and wage increases to their workers and has coincided with a steady rise in stock prices. He also highlighted Republican successes in confirming judicial nominees, while leaving unmentioned the party's failure to deliver on promises to wholly repeal the Affordable Care Act and its current struggle to arrive at consensus on immigration reforms that would protect "dreamers" — young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — from deportation.
Pence referred to Trump's State of the Union address as a "blueprint for American success" and took shots at Democratic leaders — in particular, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who referred to the tax bill's benefits for working Americans as "crumbs."
He made note of the four-figure bonuses several companies have announced for their employees and mocked Pelosi's claims.
"Let me remind you all: I come from the Jos A. Bank wing of the West Wing," Pence said, referring to the discount menswear retailer, whose wares lie at the opposite end of the sartorial spectrum from the tailored Brioni suits Trump favors. "You say $1,000 is crumbs, you live in a different world than I live in."
Pence acknowledged "conventional wisdom" that has the Republican majority in the House, and potentially the Senate, in grave danger in November. But he told the Republicans that would not come to pass if they "tell the story" of the tax cuts.
"The conventional wisdom in 2016 said that Hillary Clinton was going to be president of the United States," he said. "We made history in 2016, and we'll make history again when we reelect majorities to the Congress of the United States of America."
The vice president was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who noted that Pence had already cast as many tie-breaking votes in one year as the last Republican vice president, Richard B. Cheney, cast during eight years in office.
"I suspect we'll be seeing even more of him this year," McConnell said, a wry reference to a Republican majority that narrowed to a single vote after Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) won a December special election. "Things are tight in the Senate."
The speech came after a day of partisan attacks from Pence, who appeared at a truck dealership in White Sulphur Springs, about three miles from the exclusive resort hosting the retreat. There he highlighted the Trump administration's economic achievements but also harangued U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III, the state's only Democratic senator, who is running for reelection this year, for voting against the recent GOP tax-cut legislation.
Pence recalled seeing Manchin at a Chamber of Commerce event in West Virginia last year while the tax bill was being crafted.
"I looked him in the eye and I told him, I said, 'Joe, the people of the Mountain State are counting on you.' And I said, 'Let's get this tax cut done together,' " Pence said. "But Joe voted no. Joe voted no to give working families more of your hard-earned money. Joe voted no on tax cuts for job creators."
He also laced into Manchin in several tweets featuring a "#JoeVotedNo" hashtag to highlight the tax vote.
Manchin"is going to keep voting against West Virginia & I think Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi are pretty happy w/ the way he votes," he said in one tweet referring to the Senate and House Democratic leaders. "But WV needs to let him know that they EXPECT BETTER & they need to let Joe know that WEST VIRGINIA DESERVES BETTER."
The attacks prompted a sharp response from Manchin, who approached Republicans during the fall about a possible bipartisan path toward a tax bill — one that would deliver more benefits to low- and middle-income individuals and less for the wealthy and for corporations.
He accused Pence of having "worked for almost a year in a divisive and partisan way to take health care away from almost 200,000 West Virginians, bankrupt our hospitals, and push tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and huge corporations."
"The Vice President's comments are exactly why Washington Sucks. I'm disappointed in his comments but will continue to work to make Washington work so West Virginia and our country work."