West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin invited Bernie Sanders supporters to mount a primary challenge against him in a Friday phone call with West Virginians, according to a recording of the call viewed by POLITICO.
The sometimes contentious, roughly 15-minute conversation was largely focused on the prospect of Manchin scheduling a town hall for his constituents — an idea he said he was open to, while also repeatedly asking what the objective would be.
The conference call, which involved several political activists, was recorded by one of the activists, and Manchin can be heard responding to various questions and challenges.
But as the town hall conversation got chippy — and activists on the call brought up points of disagreement with the senator — Manchin exclaimed, “What you ought to do is vote me out. Vote me out! I’m not changing. Find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out.”
“Is that an invitation or a threat? I don’t understand,” responded one of the activists.
“Sure, it’s an invitation, you ought to. I can tell that, because we’re on different pages. Are you a Bernie Sanders guy?,” asked the senator.
“Uh, well, I don’t quite see the relevance of that to this conversation,” responded the voter.
“I’m just asking,” Manchin said.
“I stand with West Virginians who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, in all 55 counties where he won,” the voter said.
“Bernie Sanders is not even a Democrat,” said Manchin, who serves with the Vermont independent in party leadership — treading on politically treacherous territory that most other Democrats have avoided at the risk of alienating the party’s restive left wing.
One of the activists posted a live video of the conversation on Facebook publicly.
“They were discussing a difference of opinion and the path forward for West Virginia,” said Manchin’s communications director, Jonathan Kott, confirming that the senator was on the call.
“Sen. Manchin is very happy to have you quote him saying Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat,” he added, noting the Vermonter’s independent status.
Manchin is one of 10 Senate Democrats running for reelection in 2018 in a state that Donald Trump won last November, and he has often broken with other Democrats. Rarely, however, have the breaks been so explicit.
At one point on the call, speaking to one activist, Manchin also says, “What Barack Obama did to our state is criminal,” referring to environmental regulations, after the voter brought up Manchin’s vote for Scott Pruitt to become administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. “They put 400 new regulations on top, and they just smothered us. It was ridiculous.”
Manchin is already a top target of Republicans who see his seat as winnable. And he’s made few friends among liberal Democrats, who view him as leaning far too right.