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Moderate senator emerges as a vote to court

Sen. Joe Manchin said during Sunday's political talk

Sen. Joe Manchin said during Sunday's political talk shows that he "didn't lobby" to become the evenly split legislative chamber's kingmaker. Credit: MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / Michael Reynolds

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democratic swing vote in the U.S. Senate, dismissed suggestions Sunday that President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats will have to cater to his demands to pass legislation in the evenly split congressional chamber.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, a state overwhelmingly won by former President Donald Trump, has emerged as one of the legislative chamber's most prominent members as both Democrats and Republicans court his vote in the 50-50 split Senate.

Manchin’s objections to parts of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package held up passage of the bill for hours on Friday, as Senate Democrats and the White House negotiated a compromise with Manchin to reduce unemployment benefits to $300 a month, instead of a proposed $400 a month.

The lawmaker also derailed the nomination of Neera Tanden as Biden’s pick to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget. After Manchin announced that he would vote against Tanden's nomination and White House officials scrambled unsuccessfully to secure a Republican vote. Tanden ultimately withdrew her nomination last week. Currently, Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the Senate's tiebreaking vote.

Asked on ABC’s "This Week" if Biden and Senate Democrats will have to cater to "Joe Manchin’s agenda," he replied "not at all" before asserting that he was looking to play a role in pushing both sides to reach legislative compromises in the center lane of politics.

"I didn't lobby for this position," Manchin said. "I'm the same person I have been all my life. And since I've been in the public offices, I'm the same. I've been voting the same way for the last 10 years. I look for that moderate middle."

Manchin appeared on four out of five major Sunday morning political talk shows, underscoring his newfound prominence on Capitol Hill.

The lawmaker’s positions have put him at odds with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Biden. Manchin has opposed a national $15 minimum wage backed by Biden and a majority of Democrats, and heeding the calls of Senate Republicans, Manchin pushed for reducing the income threshold for those Americans eligible for direct stimulus checks to $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples. The thresholds initially proposed by Biden were $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples.

Asked about Manchin holding up Friday’s vote, Schumer on Saturday downplayed the more than 10-hour legislative standoff.

"People have new differences all the time. But you know what's the overwhelming point here? That everyone in our caucus realizes we have to pull together and get it done, and we're a team. And sometimes it takes some discussion, and sometimes it takes some work. But we don't let our differences stop us from achieving success," Schumer said.

Manchin defended his push to reduce the amount of unemployment benefits allocated under the plan, telling CNN’s "State of the Union" that "all I did was try to make sure that we were targeting where the help was needed."

Some progressive Democrats including Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) have said they are weighing voting against the stimulus package when it returns to the House floor for a vote, arguing that the Senate version passed in a party-line vote on Saturday was watered-down from the initial plan proposed by the president.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield, asked about the Progressive Caucus’ objections to the Senate changes, told CNN she was "hopeful" the bill will continue to have enough votes to pass the House this coming week and land on Biden’s desk for signing.

"We are very hopeful that the House is going to move quickly to pass this legislation," Bedingfield said.

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