Joe Manchin's wife up for $160K Biden appointment

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President Biden intends to appoint the wife of the Senate’s top swing vote, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III, to a plum federal position that pays upwards of $160,000 annually.

The White House announced on Friday it would nominate Gayle Conelly Manchin, a former president of West Virginia’s State Board of Education, to serve as federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Mrs. Manchin’s resume also includes serving as West Virginia’s first lady, West Virginia secretary of Education and the Arts and on several other state boards and initiatives.

The Appalachian Regional Commission is responsible for spurring economic development and investment in the 13 states that span the region from northern Mississippi to Pennsylvania.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mrs. Manchin would replace Tim Thomas, a former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. The role comes with a salary of approximately $163,000 annually, according to a federal pay database.

Mrs. Manchin’s nomination comes as her husband has become a vital political player in Washington for advancing Mr. Biden’s agenda and potentially Democrats’ rewrite of the Senate’s filibuster rules.

So far, Mr. Manchin has resisted fellow Democrats’ calls for blowing up the filibuster, which would allow Democrats to ram through their agenda without the support of a single Republican.

Government watchdog groups immediately questioned the appointment’s timing.

“Politicians use various inducements to get other politicians to change their minds on issues,” Peter Schweizer, the president of the Government Accountability Institute, told the Washington Times. “Unfortunately, it often works all too well.”

Mrs. Manchin could decline the co-chair’s salary. Federal appointees with close familial ties to leading elected officials sometimes forgo their salaries to avoid any hint of a conflict of interest.

Jared and Ivanka Trump decided to not accept compensation for their roles in the White House during former President Donald Trump’s term in office.

Mr. Manchin’s Senate office did not respond to requests for comment about the nomination of Mrs. Manchin.

Despite Democrats controlling both Congress and the White House, the party’s hold on the Senate is tenuous at best. The upper chamber is split 50-50 between the parties, with Democrats only holding the majority thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Given the narrow margin, Mr. Manchin, a self-described “moderate to conservative Democrat,” holds immense sway over whether the Biden administration’s agenda can become law. The senator’s influence was felt earlier this month when he delayed passage of the coronavirus relief package until his fellow Democrats in the Senate agree to reduce the size of some unemployment benefits.

He would be a key vote again for abolishing the Senate filibuster.

Under current Senate rules, any legislation that falls short of 60 votes can be filibustered. Eliminating the filibuster has become a point of internal division for Democrats. Ending the legislative tactic, one of the defining characteristics of the Senate, would allow Democrats to pass top priorities in party-line votes. Without the filibuster, though, the Senate’s deliberative nature would be diminished, transforming the upper chamber into a majority-dominated body similar to the House.

Democrats would need all 51 of their votes to change the Senate rules.

Progressives argue the filibuster should not stand in the way of Mr. Biden’s agenda on voting rights, gun control and climate change.

Voting rights have become exhibit No. 1 in Democrats’ case for blowing up the filibuster. Senate Democrats have a sweeping electoral overhaul bill, the “For the People Act,” that would set national standards such as mandates for automatic voter registration and expanded mail-in voting.

Democrats argue the new nationwide rules are crucial to counter Republican state legislatures that are moving to tighten election laws, as Georgia lawmakers did last week.

“We have to pass voting rights no matter what,” Sen. Raphael Warnock, Georgia Democrat, said when asked about the filibuster Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Moderate Democrats including Mr. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona balked at prior calls to jettison the filibuster.

In January, both lawmakers asserted their opposition to abolishing the rule when Democrats were negotiating with Republicans on how to organize the Senate. At the time, Mr. Manchin said he did “not support doing away with the filibuster under any condition” because it was “not who I am.”

In recent weeks, however, Mr. Manchin’s opposition seems to have softened. Earlier this month, the West Virginia Democrat floated the idea of changing the filibuster to mandate lawmakers have to continuously speak on the Senate floor when attempting to prevent a vote. Under current rules, senators only have to signal their intent to hold up a bill to prevent it from moving forward without 60-votes.

“The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we’ve made it more comfortable over the years,” Mr. Manchin said. “Maybe it has to be more painful.”

While Mr. Manchin has remained stern that he will never support the full abolition of the filibuster, Mr. Biden appears hopeful that he will come around.

“Well look, we’ll see, [the] question is whether or not you have to have 50 votes, 51 votes … right now that doesn’t exist,” Mr. Biden said on Friday when asked about the filibuster. “So you know, look, the only thing I’ve been relatively good at in my long career in the Senate is figuring out when to move and when not to move. You got to have the votes.”

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