On Monday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., argued for $600 billion in federal COVID-19 relief, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was, presumably, still miffed that Vice President Kamala Harris went around him to speak with West Virginia news outlets last week on the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion plan. Meanwhile, the two West Virginia senators were lapped by Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
Need to read that again? It’s OK. We had to check our notes, too.
Justice appeared on CNN and MSNBC, and did an interview with The Washington Post, to talk about vaccine distribution and relief packages, in addition to answering a question from Gazette-Mail reporter Phil Kabler on the topic during a Monday briefing. In each case, Justice supported President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package over the Republicans’ $600 billion offer.
Justice’s response to each news outlet, paraphrased, was that he thinks $600 billion isn’t nearly enough and, if $1.9 trillion is too much, it’d be better to err on the high side.
Justice also derided political wrangling in Congress over what the larger plan would do to the federal deficit, given that the pandemic has killed more than 443,000 Americans and wrecked the economy. Both points from Justice are understandable.
He did say he doesn’t support relief in the form of government bailouts, although, after the CARES Act was passed last year, Justice expressed hope and interest in another stimulus to help with government shortfalls.
The governor admitted that he doesn’t know everything that’s in Biden’s bill. The Gazette-Mail Editorial Board got a fairly detailed look during its interview last week with Harris and the White House’s senior adviser on COVID-19 response, Andy Slavitt, along with David Kamin, deputy director of the National Economic Council.
It’s complex, to say the least. No-brainers abound, but there are a few things some in Congress likely will want to debate as non-essential to COVID-19 relief.
Still, it’s doubtful that either Manchin or Capito envisioned themselves being outflanked by the Biden administration on one side and Justice on the other. It’s also hard to argue against the urgency expressed to West Virginians by the governor and Harris. In fact, neither Manchin nor Capito argues this. The devil, alas, is once more in the details.
While Monday’s events made for a bit of fun observation, this is a grave matter and there are some other serious considerations. It’s possible Justice is doing this only to antagonize Manchin by putting him under intense political pressure. The two have been at odds ever since Manchin propped the West Virginia billionaire up for governor in 2016, only to have Justice switch to the GOP less than a full year into his first term.
Manchin’s mulling over leaving Congress and running for governor again, which he ultimately decided against, intensified the bad blood. If this is Justice simply trolling Manchin, well, it doesn’t get much more meaninglessly political than that.
Recall, also, that Justice hasn’t been very transparent about the release of federal relief funds and, while claiming he seeks the input of others, he has been the sole arbiter of where these funds go for far too long. It seems likely the latest relief package will pass while the West Virginia Legislature is in session, which, hopefully, lead to better, more democratic decisions on how the money is spent.
COVID-19 relief should be nonpolitical. West Virginians, indeed all Americans, need a rapid, reasonable solution on vaccine distribution and financial assistance. Hopefully, the gamesmanship is held to a minimum and a good plan for all is the result.