Manchin to keep Energy gavel after dumping Democratic Party

By Timothy Cama | 05/31/2024 01:32 PM EDT

“I have never seen America through a partisan lens,” the West Viriginia senator said.

Sen. Joe Manchin talks with reporters.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin at the Capitol earlier this month. He announced Friday he's leaving the Democratic Party. Francis Chung/POLITICO

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin left the Democratic Party on Friday and registered as an independent, further cementing his yearslong fallout with the party.

Manchin announced in a statement that he changed his voting registration to have no party affiliation at West Virginia’s State Capitol in Charleston, along with a photo of him holding what appears to be a registration form.

“I have never seen America through a partisan lens,” he said in a statement announcing the switch.


Manchin plans to stay in the Senate Democratic Caucus, however, and keep his positions there, including as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He is also a member of Democratic leadership, as a vice chair of the caucus’s Policy and Communications Committee. Charlotte Laracy, a spokesperson for Manchin, said he “will continue to caucus with Democrats.”

The change comes as Manchin has repeatedly clashed with President Joe Biden — and his former Democratic colleagues — over a host of matters, most prominently implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats’ landmark climate law. Manchin has also joined Republicans on numerous votes seeking to overturn Biden administration’s energy and climate actions.

The switch to independent could have implications for Manchin’s political future. He said last year he wouldn’t run for reelection and didn’t run in the Democratic primary this month for his Senate seat or for governor.

But he has considered running as an independent for the Senate and has reportedly faced pressure to run for governor. The registration keeps his options open for an independent run for either office. Both races are in November.

Manchin said in his Friday statement that since joining the Senate in 2010, “I have seen both the Democrat and Republican parties leave West Virginia and our country behind for partisan extremism while jeopardizing our democracy.”

He added: “Today, our national politics are broken and neither party is willing to compromise to find common ground. To stay true to myself and remain committed to put country before party, I have decided to register as an independent with no party affiliation and continue to fight for America’s sensible majority.”

Manchin has previously brushed away suggestions that he might run for Senate or governor as an independent, though he has not ruled out a run.

He told reporters this month that he’s an ally of Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington and the Democratic nominee for governor, who faces long odds against Patrick Morrisey, the Republican nominee.

“Steve Williams is a friend of mine. We’ve known each other for 40 years. I contributed to his campaign, I encouraged him to run,” he said May 20. “I don’t know where this is coming from, so I can’t really say anything.”

The statement came after West Virginia MetroNews reported that Republicans opposed to Morrisey, the state’s attorney general, were pushing Manchin to jump into the race. Morrisey came out ahead in a bruising GOP primary against former state lawmaker Moore Capito and businessman Chris Miller.

Manchin has also mostly dismissed the concept of running as an independent for Senate but has not ruled it out, CNN reported.

He endorsed Glenn Elliott, the mayor of Wheeling, in the Democratic primary, although he has not made an explicit endorsement in the general election. Jim Justice, the current Republican governor, is favored to easily win the race.

Manchin has until Aug. 1 to file for either race as an independent.

Climate law wrangling

Manchin has led the Energy and Natural Resources Committee since Democrats took the Senate majority in 2021.

While his vocal support for mining, coal and other fossil fuels has often angered Democrats, he’s been an ally on matters like conservation and some clean energy policies.

He also was a lead author of the IRA, the 2022 law that included $369 billion of spending for climate change and clean energy, the largest climate measure in the nation’s history.

But since that law has gone into effect, Manchin has been critical of many of the Biden administration’s actions to implement it — and threatened to join GOP efforts to repeal it.

Manchin has argued it has been too favorable to clean energy at the expense of fossil fuels and domestic energy. He has also clashed with Democrats on other major issues, such as taxation and immigration.

Manchin has been a Democrat since his first run for West Virginia’s House of Delegates in 1982. He lost that bid but won a state Senate election in 1986. He was later governor from 2005 to 2010.

While the Democratic Party was dominant in West Virginia at the time and Manchin’s centrist and conservative positions were welcome there, the state has since moved dramatically toward Republicans, who hold all major state offices and all but a handful of legislative seats.

The national Democratic Party has also united in more liberal positions in that time, including on issues around environmental policy.

The Senate’s other three independents, Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine), all caucus with Democrats and some hold leadership positions. Sinema was a Democrat until 2022 and was allowed to keep her spots.

Reporter Garrett Downs contributed.