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'Trump Apologist' or Democrat Survivor? A Coal State Senator's Struggle

Sen. Joe Manchin, (D) WV
Sen. Joe Manchin, (D) WV

WASHINGTON Washington, D.C. feels more politicized than ever these days, but one senator is trying to reach across the aisle and break the gridlock.

On the surface, it would seem Sen. Joe Manchin might feel a bit vulnerable. In less than two years, the West Virginia Democrat faces reelection in a state that went overwhelmingly for President Trump.

But if Senator Manchin is concerned, he's not showing it.

"I don't hold a party line, a party line for me is what's good for West Virginia," Manchin told CBN News. "If I can go home and explain it, I'll vote for it. If I can't, I don't."

Despite being appointed to Democratic leadership days after the 2016 election, Manchin has been one of the few, and in some cases only, Democratic senators to vote for Trump appointees like Justice Neil Gorsuch and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

"I said upfront from day one, I'm going to be differential to an executive, a president or a governor that wants to put their team together," says Manchin. 

"I've been very open, I look at each one individually, I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and try to let the executive put their staff together," he added.

But he didn't vote for all Trump's appointees, like Betsy DeVos and Wilbur Ross.

"The ones I voted against are some I think either weren't qualified or didn't have the experience level to do the job right," said Manchin.

Washington: 'A Tough Place to be Reasonable'

But progressive Democrats are not so understanding of his stance, with activist groups calling for his removal from Senate leadership, referring to him as a "Trump apologist."

"I'm just trying to be reasonable, but boy it's a tough place to be reasonable," said Manchin.

This situation is a familiar one for Manchin who disagreed with President Obama's coal policies that he says had disastrous consequences for American jobs and the economy. 

"They were horrible because it was not a rational energy policy. I've said this, I'm all for renewables, I'm for wind, I'm for solar, I'm for everything," he said. "But I'm also a pragmatist, I understand that it's only going to do so much for me within a system of demand of energy we have in this country."

Manchin went on to explain the reason behind his disagreement with Obama's energy policies. 

"If that's where you think you want all your energy to come from, tell me what four to five hours a day you want your energy, what four to five hours a day do you want your electricity to work, do you want your refrigerator to stay cool, do you want to heat your home?"

Manchin Priority: West Virginia's Energy Industry

While much of West Virginia industry centers on coal, hundreds of mines have closed down in recent years due to new environmental regulations. Manchin is disappointed the Obama administration invested billions in renewables like solar energy that provide only 20 percent of America's power while basically ignoring coal, which he says powers 70 percent of the country's electricity.

"The rest of the world's going to use the most abundant energy they have and the best BTU which is the best heat value, that's going to be coal, they're going to use it, and if they're going to use it let's make sure they use it cleaner. Well, they can't use it cleaner unless we develop the technology," Manchin said.

Another priority for Manchin is addressing our national debt. "What we're doing for the future generations of this country is basically almost criminal," he said. "I mean, you're passing on to your children an unmanageable debt, when we could fix it." 

He thinks a reasonable tax policy is the answer.

"The super, super wealthy one percent-ers shouldn't have the privileges that nobody else gets. They should pay a fair share, but thinking they're going to pay the full load from the left thinking just throw it on the top end, that's not going to happen."

Right Senator, Wrong Party?

In West Virginia, it's hard to tell if Manchin is benefiting politically from his actions. Republicans seem impressed by his votes, but he's lost support from some Democrats.

"I think he's too much to the right," West Virginia resident Charles Town told CBN News. "He's a Democrat, I'm a Democrat also, but I totally disagree."

But some Republicans are now supportive of the senator.

"I think Manchin's in the wrong party, I think he'd be a lot happier as a Republican, and we'd be very happy to have him," said Joseph Rivers. "Democrats are not talking to Republicans a lot, so he's an unusual person to be that close to the fence."

And many are happy with how he sticks up for West Virginia in Washington.  

"He stood on his own because he did what he thought was right, and I like that because that's not just sticking with party for party's sake," said West Virginian Carol Blumenthal. "I'm going to vote for him!"

And in Washington, Manchin remains determined to prove he's not out to please either party.

"They can't just pigeonhole me and say he's just a Washington Democrat, liberal, that's not me, or they can control him, that's not me, and I think they know that I'm going to basically look out for my state and do everything I can that's going to help my state and my country," said Manchin.

We'll see in 2018 if moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin can survive in this political climate.

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