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James F. Humphreys

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has come under intense criticism from many progressives on social media for not supporting all of President Joe Biden’s nominees and legislative proposals. A frequent refrain is that Manchin has “sold out.” As Gen. Anthony McAuliffe famously responded to a German surrender ultimatum at the battle of Bastogne, “Nuts.”

To sell out means to accept something of value in return for acting in a manner contrary to one’s beliefs, values or commitments. As someone who has known Joe Manchin for 40 years and who served with him in the Legislature, where we often opposed each other, I can tell you he’s no sellout. He’s simply not built that way.

Manchin’s critics are factually wrong when they accuse him of selling out and they are strategically wrong if they expect they can influence him through public insults and attacks on his character. Finally, any good student of the legislative process knows that today’s foe can be tomorrow’s friend.

The charges and accusations are unfortunate, but elected officials know they must expect such attacks in what passes for political discourse in these hyper-partisan times. Manchin is now being vilified for failing to announce his support for two gun-control bills that recently passed the House of Representatives and for declining to support an increased national minimum wage to $15 per hour. The current federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 per hour and hasn’t been increased since 2009.

These attacks totally ignore that, several years ago, Manchin co-sponsored a bill (with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey) calling for background checks at gun shows. Manchin’s bill so enraged the NRA, even if they once supported such checks, that it ran television ads in West Virginia denouncing him for it. With NRA opposition, this commonsense, bipartisan legislation was, unfortunately, defeated.

Manchin’s critics also refuse to acknowledge that the Congressional Budget Office has said the $15 minimum wage, while moving many out of poverty, also could cost up to a million Americans their jobs. While I enthusiastically support a $15 minimum wage, I recognize that there is legitimate debate on the subject.

Manchin has sought a compromise of $11 per hour. While I would like to see the $15, or even a $17 per hour increase, I must concede that Manchin’s $11 proposal is far more desirable than the Republican preference for no increase at all. “Put your foot in, before you dive in,” is honest conservatism as practiced by Manchin.

To my liberal brothers and sisters who are excoriating Manchin for his opposition to abolishing the filibuster — the rule that, in practical terms, requires 60 votes to pass most bills in the Senate — I would advise to be careful what you ask for.

In 2024, Democrats will be defending 23 Senate seats, many in swing states. Republicans, on the other hand, will be defending only 10 seats, and only one of those, Florida, can be considered a swing state. If Democrats lose control of the Senate in 2024 (or before), we’re going to wish we still had the filibuster, to keep Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the radical right from undoing all the good Biden is accomplishing.

Joe Manchin has, is and always will be more conservative than I, but he is a Democrat who has proven time and time again that he can get elected in ruby-red West Virginia. Reelecting Manchin in 2024 means that progressives like myself will be frustrated from time to time because of his dogged insistence on bipartisanship and his centrist ideology. But that frustration pales in comparison to the very real harm that will fall on so many Americans should radical Republicans retake control of Congress.

James Humphreys is an attorney, former West Virginia state senator and Democratic Party nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives.

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