Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is having trouble making a decision about his political future.
During a series of private meetings in the Hamptons over Labor Day weekend, Manchin, his wife, Gayle, and their daughter, Heather, grappled with what the senator should do in 2024, according to two people familiar with the meetings who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. One of the meetings was a private sit-down with former president Bill Clinton.
Manchin and his family said in the meetings that the senator was considering three options: running for reelection in West Virginia as an independent, running for president as a No Labels candidate or retiring from politics. Manchin has not decided what path to pursue, but it seemed clear to those he met with that he is likely to leave the Democratic Party if he chooses to stay in politics.
Manchin declined to comment through a spokesperson.
In some of the meetings, Democratic donors strongly urged Manchin to run for reelection in West Virginia, and Manchin said he believed he could win the race but only if he ran as an independent. Manchin has previously said he has considered leaving the Democratic Party, but people familiar with the meetings said Manchin was more adamant than he has been in public about his need to run as an independent to win.
But Heather Bresch, Manchin’s daughter who was the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, is strongly encouraging her father to run for president with the backing of No Labels, a bipartisan group recruiting a Democrat and a Republican to potentially run on a third-party ticket in next year’s presidential election. Manchin has long supported No Labels, once serving as an honorary co-chair of the group and headlining a July event sponsored by the group in New Hampshire.
Manchin has not ruled out a run for president and has supported No Labels’ message and proposition. No Labels declined to comment.
“We’re here to make sure that the American people have an option,” Manchin said at the No Labels event he headlined in July. “And the option is, can you move the political parties off their respective sides? They’ve gone too far right, too far left.”
In his meeting with Manchin, Clinton made an aggressive pitch that Manchin should absolutely not run for president, warning that his candidacy would only serve to bolster former president Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican nomination. Beyond that, Clinton largely listened as the family discussed the various options, one of the people familiar with the conversation said.
Manchin requested the meeting with Clinton after the senator heard the former president was in the Hamptons at the same time, the person said. Clinton often vacations with his family in the Hamptons, and he and Manchin have been in contact over the years. White House officials had asked Clinton to call Manchin when he was debating whether to support important pieces of legislation earlier in Biden’s presidency.
Clinton’s office declined to comment.
Manchin has served in the Senate since 2010 after his tenure as governor of West Virginia, and he won his last election by just over three points. If he chooses to run for reelection, he is likely to face stiff competition. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) and Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) are both running for the Republican nomination in a state Trump won by nearly 40 points in 2020. Manchin has said he is not considering running for governor of West Virginia again.
In a radio interview with a West Virginia radio station in August, Manchin said he has “absolutely” considered becoming an independent.
“I’m thinking seriously what’s best for me; I have to have peace of mind, basically,” he said about the decision. “I’ve been thinking about that for quite some time.”
If Manchin decides to leave the party, he would become the second Democrat to do so in the last year. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) announced in December that she was becoming an independent, though she has not publicly declared whether she will run for reelection in 2024. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is running for the seat as a Democrat.
Democrats are optimistic Manchin will run for reelection in West Virginia, and even if he chooses to run as an independent, most expect the party will back his campaign.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee declined to comment. A national Democratic aide working on Senate races, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the “party hopes he runs.”
For the first two years of Biden’s presidency, when the Senate was split 50-50, Manchin held outsize influence over policy and personnel matters. He shaped the Inflation Reduction Act, one of Biden’s signature domestic policy accomplishments, after he torpedoed the Build Back Better Act, a more expansive version of the legislation he ultimately agreed to. In recent months, though, Manchin has ratcheted up his criticism of the Biden administration and has opposed an increasing number of Biden nominees. He has been especially angered by the administration’s approach in implementing the Inflation Reduction Act and its climate and energy provisions.
Still Democrats acknowledge that if Manchin does not run for reelection, a Republican is almost certainly going to win the Senate seat, and in the last Congress, Manchin voted with the president nearly 88 percent of the time.
“I believe he has as good a chance as anyone to win reelection as senator in West Virginia,” said Manchin ally Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “He has been as good as senator as anyone in West Virginia. He also has a huge role in the United States in the position that he is in. His influence led to the final passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. So I think that the role he plays in the Senate gives him tremendous clout for his state and for the U.S.”
Weingarten added that she does not think Manchin “is going to put himself in the position that would in any way hurt Joe Biden’s prospects for reelection.”