Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s lone Democrat in Congress, said Friday there would need to be something “scathing” for him to oppose President-elect Donald Trump’s staff selections for his administration.
“I’ve always given every executive a chance, unless there’s just something scathing that comes out,” Manchin said Friday, during a visit to Dem 2 Brothers Grill and BBQ on Charleston’s West Side. “Right now, I’m not going to pass judgment. I don’t like this toxic rhetoric that’s gone on in this campaign, and I hope that subsides and moves on. But let’s see. You have to give a person a chance.”
In recent days, Trump has filled several cabinet and advisory positions — including Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of right-wing website Breitbart News, as his senior counselor and chief strategist — a position that does not have to get Senate approval.
Trump’s selection of Bannon, who has been a major voice of a fringe wing of the Republican Party, was immediately condemned by many Democrats in Congress because of his ties to white-nationalist messaging.
But Manchin said Friday he was unlikely to criticize or push back against Trump’s appointments.
“I don’t know this man,” Manchin said of Bannon. “Some of the stuff he’s written and probably done over the past, they tell me has been very toxic. I haven’t followed this guy. I don’t know him that well.”
On Tuesday, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who Manchin criticized in a statement last week, ridiculed Bannon’s appointment as an extension of the “racism, bullying and bigotry” that Trump played on during the election.
“By placing a champion of white supremacy a step away from the Oval Office, what message does Trump send?” Reid asked in a speech given on the Senate floor.
Reid and other Senate Democrats were also joined by 169 Democratic members of the U.S. House who sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday, calling on him to rescind Bannon’s appointment as one of the top White House advisers. Those House members pointed to past headlines and stories from Breitbart that are steeped in misogynistic, homophobic, anti-semitic, Islamophobic and white-supremacist rhetoric.
One Breitbart story referred to a former Republican official from George H.W. Bush’s administration as a “renegade Jew.” Another called young Muslim Americans a “ticking time bomb.” Others said birth control made women “unattractive and crazy” and that it was time for the gay rights movement to “get back in the closet.”
The website has gone far enough to be studied by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups around the country.
“Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern about how they will be treated by the Trump Administration and your appointment of Mr. Bannon only exacerbates and validates their concerns,” the Democratic congress members told Trump.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia’s Republican senator, agrees with Manchin. In a statement Thursday, she said Trump should be able to choose his team.
“Presidents have the authority to select and hire their White House staff members,” Capito spokeswoman Ashley Berrang said. “Senator Capito looks forward to working with the new administration, which a large majority of West Virginians supported, on policies that benefit the state.”
West Virginia’s three U.S. House members — Republicans Alex Mooney, David McKinley and Evan Jenkins — did not respond to questions about whether they back Trump’s appointment of Bannon.
While Democrats can’t do much about Bannon’s advisory role, senators could have more power over some of Trump’s cabinet choices, like current Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, who was named Friday as Trump’s choice as the next attorney general.
Manchin, a self-proclaimed “moderate Democrat,” said he likely wouldn’t put up a fight over Sessions, who was denied a federal judgeship during Ronald Reagan’s administration over controversial and racially charged comments.
During his failed confirmation hearings in 1986, Sessions was questioned about statements in which he called the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of Churches “un-American’’ groups.
He also apologized for previously saying he thought members of the Klu Klux Klan ‘’were OK until I found out they smoked pot.’’
“I don’t know anything about that past,” Manchin said. “I’ve heard about his federal judgeship that got turned down because of derogatory remarks. I didn’t know any of that stuff.”
“I know Jeff very well,” Manchin added. “I’ve always liked Jeff.”
Manchin also addressed recent comments by a Trump supporter and a professed adviser who said there were discussions about drafting a proposal to create a Muslim registry — something Trump adamantly supported during his campaign but has since denied.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is said to be a Trump adviser, said there had been talk of a proposal for a national registry of immigrants from countries with active terror organizations.
On Thursday, a former spokesman for one of the main Super PACs that supported Trump’s campaign suggested Japanese internment camps that were set up during World War II — an action largely considered one of the worst black eyes of American history — could be used as a legal precedent for those actions.
Mirroring language used during Trump’s campaign, Manchin said people should be “vetted” to “the highest degree.” He specifically cited young men 12 years and older that are coming from “certain areas.”
The federal government already conducts multiple background checks, screenings against federal law enforcement databases and interviews with incoming refugees.
Manchin did go on to say there was a “balance to be had,” and that the country could make problems worse by alienating Muslim communities in the United States — something Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have discussed.
“You are not going to throw people out that are here legally, because of their religious beliefs, or their background or ethnicity or whatever,” Manchin said. “That can’t happen. That’s not American.”
“If the God-loving, American-loving Muslims in this country feel that we’re not part of all one great country, they are not going to help us make sure that we’re safe,” Manchin said. “And they are the community that can help us better than any other community.”
Manchin believes that Trump and his allies’ incendiary comments towards hispanics, Muslims and other minority communities is fading.
“If his harsh rhetoric before has seemed to be toned down and this and that, I think it’s becoming realistic what can and can’t be done,” Manchin said.
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