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Manchin says he offered to become independent if he became a "problem" for Democrats

Moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Thursday he had offered to drop his formal affiliation with the Democratic Party and instead be independent if he were causing a "problem" for the caucus. 

He was asked by reporters at the Capitol about a report that he had threatened to leave the party if his demands weren't met on the social spending bill under negotiation by moderate and progressive Democrats.

"No," he said. But he disclosed a conversation in which he said that if he were ever "an embarrassment" to Democratic colleagues and the president, if "me being a moderate centrist Democrat if that causes you a problem, let me know, and I'd switch to be an independent, but I'd still be caucusing with Democrats."

"That's the only thing was ever discussed. No one accepted that, and I just said, 'I'll make that offer, if you need it,'" Manchin said, and he told reporters that his offer was "not accepted." He denied that it was the confrontation portrayed by Mother Jones' David Corn earlier this week. According to that report, Manchin had told associates he was considering leaving the party if President Biden and Democrats did not agree to cut the social spending bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, and he would declare himself an independent. 

When asked to comment on the report Wednesday, Manchin said, "It's bulls***." 

Other people who know the West Virginia senator also denied Manchin would make that kind of threat. "There's absolutely no way this is true," said one Manchin associate who hasn't spoken to him in recent days but knows Manchin's motives.

If he were to leave the Democratic Party, and not caucus with Democrats, as reported by Mother Jones, Manchin would hand control of the Senate to Republicans and radically diminish his own political power, not to mention that of Democrats. He would lose his chairmanship of the Energy Committee, and it's unlikely Republicans would let him chair the panel, were he to caucus with them.

And Manchin would still have to find a way to work with the current White House, and the administration, deprived of a bicameral Democratic Congress and the ability to pass any major legislation, would likely freeze him out.

Republican Senator John Cornyn also cast doubt on the idea: "Joe's not gonna we're gonna do that. He's like a bunch of moderate Democrats in Texas: they were born that way and they're never going to change."  

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