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Senator Joe Manchin sits down with 5 News to discuss vaccine, the VA and stimulus checks

Published: Dec. 24, 2020 at 7:12 PM EST
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - Below is the transcript from a one-on-one interview between Senator Joe Manchin and the 5 News staff, conducted on Christmas Eve, 24 December 2020.

Joe Buchanan: Senator [Manchin] - thank you for taking the time to sit down with us, especially on Christmas eve. Of course, Saturday, you got your vaccine.. How are you feeling - any side effects?

Senator Manchin: “It is going good. I had no symptoms whatsoever. No soreness I had nothing it was just it was really easier than the flu shot to be honest with you”

JB: Really?

“Yep.”

JB: I saw the needle, was it smaller than the normal flu shot?

“Not really, I thought it was going to be a lot bigger from what you hear. It wasn’t - the pinch is like any shot, you know, it is like a pinch. I had no soreness nothing whatsoever. No after effects whatsoever. They made me sit there for 15 minutes, I guess, before they let you get out there out of the office. But other than that, we had the physician there at the Capitol give it to us.

I was thinking, basically, I wanted the people on the frontline as far as our first responders and essential people that we have caring for all of us and depending on who we depend on should be getting theirs first and they are.

As you know, I sent a letter to the VA because I was concerned about our veterans not getting their shots here and the state of West Virginia had not been mentioned here so far as, going to be getting it. I found out now that the Moderna is going out now. We should be receiving it now. It does not have to have the super cooled containers and facilities.

That is why we did not get the Pfizer from the front end. Moderna is basically refrigerated like any type of refrigeration that people would have that would be easier for us to be able to distribute into rural America and definitely rural West Virginia. So hopefully that will all be done as quickly as possible.”

JB: Absolutely, and with the VA, lots of news coming out of there between the vaccines and the [change in leadership] news. Can you talk a little bit about what you talked about on the phone this morning?

Well I just had - ten minutes ago before I came to visit with you all. I had a call from all the officials out of Washington on a Christmas eve so you can tell how important. I just can not believe that it has taken this long to get any type of closure. But the federal investigation took two and a half years. And the sentencing will happen in February I think. So with that being said it is kind of hampered everybody from moving quicker to do what needed to be done.

There was a lack of leadership from the standpoint of the type of leadership that the VA needs to get the quality of care that our veterans deserve. That has finally been made. They moved people out. They will move people out continuously and bring in a crackpot leadership team as of the first of January. That is what we were talking about today.

I wanted them to know that from my committee, the Veterans Committee, a full-on investigation into how this was handled in Clarksburg to make sure no other VA has to go through it. VA hospital or center. It is ridiculous for us to have people who did not know what was going on or did not care what was going on and did not make changes that needed to be made. It was awful.

The Inspector General, I have been on top of them too. Not being able, and giving me the excuse that they can’t come in and do it until the criminal investigation. I don’t know why we couldn’t have, basically done a parallel investigation just on competency. I just want to know your procedures. Who is vetting these people. How do we hire someone who has, maybe, a questionable background before you put them in charge, or how, basically, the medication was going unsupervised. How can a person basically just coming into the system get to that type of medication. All of these things needed to be answered and they will be answered, but it is taking longer. So I can only say to the families that have had to endure this, my heart goes out to each one of you and hopefully we will prevent this from ever happening again.”

JB: Through these trials and investigations and everything, when is the end goal in your opinion? When are you going to be satisfied?

“Well the sentencing comes in February, that is the sentencing. So whatever cooperation they may be getting from the lady who has been charged and basically been found guilty and justice will be served upon her. They are still trying to extract, was there any one accomplice or anyone else, this and that. We don’t see anyone else being mentioned or suspicion. That would be a real surprise if that were to happen.

We are going to go ahead and start now because the changes need to be made. We have to get the services we need from leadership and the proper leadership team here in Clarksburg to get the services. The people were not being fully cooperative right now because of the staffing levels and the changes that were being made. We need to get back up to full operation.”

JB: Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about the Stimulus bill that, this morning, the House Republicans denying that $2000 stimulus bill. Where do you stand on that $2,000?

“Well, here is where I stand. Everybody wants to get a check. I understand that. I understand that and I wish we could send a check. Everybody starts talking about - why didn’t we do that back with the bipartisan - we put a bill together - it was a bipartisan team that we put together that made this possible.

We broke the log jam. There was a log jam. They were not moving anywhere. It would have been another continuing resolution and just kicking the can down the street. That is what would have happened.

We showed them we could look at it as an emergency. The emergency is basically this - what expires? What expires at the end of December? And you have got basic unemployment benefits expiring, housing protection, eviction notices, food assistance. The basics of life. People are running out of all types of backstops that will help them and it just couldn’t happen. So we looked at that and found it would take $908-billion to do what needs to be done to carry people through the first quarter of next year. Which is April 1, 2021. That is how we approached it.

I think when we all looked at it from the House and the Senate, we saw it was the most reasonable, sensible approach. That is what started everyone, what can we do - how do we do this?

“We did not have the $600 or any dollars going to people that already had a paycheck and people that were still working. We were trying to help - the emergency of it - was helping those who had nothing. Who lost everything and we have more unemployment happening now because of a rampant COVID resurgence. So we knew what we were dealing with there. We just didn’t have the luxury of having the additional money.

So, when we couldn’t get the state and local assistance some states and locals advocated for cause they had been hit so hard, Republicans and Democrats came to an impasse, that was put to the side. So they used that $160-billion to come back and fulfill the $600 payment and that is where that came from.

Now the president is talking about $2,000 that is a $600-billion or more bill and they are just not going to do that now. I would remind the President that under President Trump’s watch, we have added more debt at a faster pace than ever since world war ii we have never done this. People need to know that.

Now the economy and Wall Street might be doing well but the average person on Main Street is still struggling. People are really concerned now. So we are going to try to get through all of this. But we have got to do this together. I mean, you have got to have common sense responsibility and be reasonable in how we approach this.

That is what we are working on right now.

If he is going to - now he is threatening to basically veto the COVID and year-end spending. Together, those are $2.3-trillion. One for year-end spending. 900 for the COVID.

[President Trump] is nowhere to be found since Election Day, we have not heard from President Trump. No one. He is not involved in any of these discussions whatsoever. Steve Mnuchin, the Secretary of Treasury, is the only one that has been involved. When we finally made the deal on the 900-billion, Steve Mnuchin says ‘I think this was good’ cause he was basically transmitting to everybody that this is what he thought the President would sign and he said it would be a ‘Good Christmas for people.’ Which he is right. Then, all of a sudden for the President to do what he did.

He vetoed the NDAA. For 59 years we have passed the NDAA every year. National Defense Authorization means we are authorizing us to pay our military, to make sure they have proper standards and protections and all they need to protect themselves that defends our country. That is the first and foremost thing we do. For him to veto that because of the personal dislike for some of the social media, that won’t let him put things on that are untrue on the platforms?

I have got problems with Section 230 and what the media is not held responsible by selling drugs and all the paraphernalia that goes on they need to be held accountable for that. But he was more concerned about what we was unable to say. That is why he wanted the sanctions.

So he is going to hold up all of the spending and all of the payroll and all of, basically, the living that the military counts on us to approve for them every year makes no sense what so ever.

I am reminded of when Abraham Lincoln gave an inaugural speech and he says the better angels in all of us you know have to move on. This is in 1864 after the Civil War was coming to an end. He knew it would take the better angels in people to forgive and move on. I’m asking the better angel, hopefully the better angel, inside of Donald Trump to let us move on Mr. President, we need to move on.”

Michael Baldwin: If the $2,000 [stimulus checks] can’t get passed, why then would the President get people’s hopes up? What is the endgame?

“The endgame here, first of all, I have never seen such self-serving selfishness I have never seen this at almost any level, let alone the leader of the free world. It is all about him, basically, going out to say ‘I want to do this. I wanted to give you this. I wanted to help you with this.’ Then he questions, we are giving money to foreign countries. Mr. President, we give less than 1%. 1% of our federal budget goes to build relationships around the world. You want us to vacate that too and give it all to China? Because that is what is happening.

China is moving in with a vengence, trying to build up good will around the world. Not for democracy, not for democracy at all. Just look at how they operate under communistic rule. So that is what we do, what very little of it we spend, and he says, comparing that saying we are not giving anyone in America any help.

We are going to, in this one year, invest more money into the citizens in every way shape and form in America in almost as much as 100% as our annual budget. Our annual budget is about $4.7-trillion. We are well over three-and-a-half, closing in on $4-trillion in one year that we have invested into America.

So you take that almost-$4-trillion that we are investing and he says it is not enough because we are investing and sending money over to foreign countries. Less than 1%. You compare it.

Mr. President, please be honest with the American people and please leave on a high note. Because it is not good what you are doing now. "

MB: Do you think that he should not be in Mar-a-Lago right now, that he should be in Washington?

“It does not matter what you and I think Joe. It does not matter what you and I think. It really doesn’t, because [President Trump] doesn’t care what the American people think. It is all about what Donald Trump and how he is perceived and that is the shame, it is really a shame. I know West Virginia has supported and voted big time for him.

I tried to work with him in every shape until I realized there was no - when you have a person who basically, it is all about them, it is all about what they say is factual whether it is not factual and you can prove it. He will keep saying it over-and-over-and-over because he thinks you will believe it. It makes no sense whatsoever. It is dangerous, it has been dangerous.

You know what, we have less than 30 days. So this country and our form of government has been very resilient over the 240 years that we have been around and he has pushed it to its limit. But I can tell you democracy will survive.”

JB: And on January 20th when President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn in, where do you see - he says he is going to hit the ground running, saying this is going to be turning a new leaf. With him carrying us through the end of the pandemic, where do you see the next four years going.

“I think first of all the end is in sight. I mean, first of all the vaccines are now approved are 94-95% effective. They will be widely distributed, it will be a little longer than people anticipated. We have to get everyone inoculated that wants to.

You can’t get everybody because a lot of people won’t do it anyway. I would encourage everyone, it is all free, it does not cost you a thing. We are paying for it, your tax dollars are paying for you to be protected. Please protect your loved ones and your whole neighborhood. So that will all be done but that will probably be up until the second quarter of next year. So we are talking May, June, probably towards the end of July before we have total vaccination throughout the country.

Then the new normal won’t be what the old normal was. We have learned to work differently and be more efficient in how we do it because we haven’t had the pleasure of moving around. We are social animals we all want to get back together and start socializing again, especially with our families, so that is something we anticipate.”

JB: Speaking of social, what does a Manchin Christmas look like this year?

“Well, you know, I have been tested and everything before I go up to Fairmont with my son, my daughter-in law, and their children. It will be smaller than what we usually do because usually it is a big gathering. There is a lot of us. We usually - Christmas Eve is our big, big night and there can be anywhere from 60-100 of us. Cousins, first cousins, second cousins, nieces, nephews. That won’t happen this year. So we just have to use the phone, call everybody and tell them we love them and wish them a Merry Christmas and keep the faith. We will, This too shall pass.”

MB: Unemployment insurance runs out December 26th, that is in two days.

“We will backfill that. We have to backfill that. The Governor has money to do that with. Governor Justice has money in that $2.5-billion he was given. He still has about $800[-million] so a lot of that will be used for unemployment until this kicks in the first of January. But what happened was, for them to get the money they needed, to get the $600 checks, they took 6 weeks from unemployment.

It went from 16 weeks, from what we wrote in our bill, down to 10 weeks. $60-billion. Unbelievable, just unbelievable because [President Trump] wanted to send a check out with his name on it.”

MB: Joe Biden has talked about compromise, having dialogue and Republicans and Democrats working together. It seems like you have emerged as that compromiser, if you will. Kind of, bringing the parties together, where as some of the Senators - I won’t say who - could be kind of toxic against some Republicans. Where you are more of a Conservative Democrat.

“I am a Conservative Democrat. There is not many of us left.

I have been described many ways. I am not a Washington Democrat and a lot of my dear friends are not Washington Republicans. We are West Virginia Republicans and West Virginia Democrats, a little bit different. There is a civility we always abided by, we took care of each other, we had differences in how we appraoch a problem but we recognize that we had the same problem.

Everybody has a different approach to fix the same problem and eventually if you wanted to fix something and you identify it, you can find a compromise where ‘okay this works best.’ I can agree with that.

We have lost that and we lost it because of the tribal mentality we have. The tribal mentality is this, I have my tribe and my tribe is against your tribe and I don’t care what you do. You are wrong and I am right. I said that is not how I was raised and I am not going to do that, so I have always been that middle person. I always have been.

I always tell people, I’m fiscally conservative, I am socially compassionate. Put me where you think I belong. I work with the Republicans as easy as I work with my Democrats, Independents and everything in between. So it is very easy for me to cross over because I do not campaign against them. I do not give money to their opponents against a sitting collegue. Because these are people that I have got to work with.

When they talk to me they know who is a friend that they can count on who won’t betray them. So it makes it very easy. So we were able to bring a lot of like-minded people together and we are not going to let this bipartisan bicameral group fall apart.

Because we found out leadership can not lead and there has been personality type conflicts. What you see and what you hear - the four corners. You basically have the two leaders in the House and two leaders in the Senate. Democrat and Republican; McConnell and Shumer, Democrat and Republican, Pelosi and McCarthy.

Those four staff end up cutting all the pie up. Everything comes through them. It is not by-chance that it happens. We always run out of time and we have to do it at the last second. They prefer it that way because they have total control. We are not going to give them that control anymore. We have pushed the envelope and we have made them come to the table this time.

Now they still had some tweaking and played with it a bit, but not to the extent they had before. We are going to stop that from happening too. Not that much power should be placed in four hands to decide how to spend what we spend, what we invest, what changes and what policies. Just because they don’t function in a normal way.

Committees aren’t functioning, things aren’t coming out of committees. 300 bills are sitting on McConnell’s desk right now because, for whatever reason, he doesn’t put them on because of the bill and he has total control of the calendar. We are trying to change the rules, Democrats and Republicans. When something comes over by the House in a bipartisan way, it has X amount of time to get on the calendar. It has to go on the floor. It has to be an amendable process.

If it comes out of a committee in the Senate and it is overwhelmingly bipartisan, It has to be on the floor in a certain period of time with amendments allotted. That takes the control out of it and the decision making out of it. They shouldn’t have it, they should basically be the traffic cops, making sure everything is moving. Not to be the judge, jury and traffic cop on top of that.”

MB: So do you think if the Democrats win those two Senate seat in Georgia that the Democratic legion would be willing to do that?

“I am not saying either one. Anytime the leadership has had that much power in their hands. They might talk a good game but they are not going to give it up. Not just the leadership. It is the staff around them has too much power and they don’t want to give it up. We have got to take it. It is not supposed to be theirs, it is not their power to keep.

It is our power basically to represent the people of West Virginia and everywhere else. When I see that we have been left behind in rural America. Our entire state is rural. We need a 20% set-aside in any federal dollars. 20% needs to be set aside for any rural citizen because 20% of people lives in rural America. All of West Virginia lives in rural.

So if you don’t put that aside, we can’t compete with large populated areas. The economies of scale don’t work out to where it is very much efficient. We are fighting every day to make sure the chasm of rural and urban do not get bigger and deeper. That is what is happening.”

MB: The COVID relief bill has some broadband money in there.

“We have broadband, we have opioid, we have homeless money in it.”

MB: So how does that broadband really effect West Virginia?

“For us to compete in the 21st century, we have got to have expansive broadband connectivity. We are looking at everything we can whether it be through satellite, whether it be from hard wiring. Hard wiring takes longer, it takes time to do it. It is more costly in West Virginia because of our terrain and the sparseness of our population. But if we can do it with electricity in the 1930′s and have electricity in every household no matter where you lived, then we can surely do it with broadband.

We just use the same model, they develop this thing called co-ops. You can’t get the companies to come in and lose money. But what you could do is form a co-op where they can sell to that co-op and the coop is not in it to make money. The co-ops are in it to serve.

The companies are in it to make money, I understand that. But we solved it back in the 1930′s for electricity, don’t tell me we can’t solve it for rural broadband connectivity. We can do that too.”

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