Rayan: Wait wait, let’s not bury the lead here. How did you meet Joe Biden?
Steve: Well, let me just finish. Then I met Joe Manchin at Biden’s house. First time. This is where I met him physically for the first time.
Rayan: What this year?
Steve: I’m really bad with years.
Rayan: What era will it be? Is Biden vice president?
Steve: Yes, Biden is the vice president.
Rayan: So he’s at the vice president’s mansion?
Steve: at the Vice President’s office. It was a holiday party, I think, if I remember correctly. We started talking about “don’t ask, don’t tell” and he was a senator, just like today. Hang around and you probably won’t be on the plane with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” cancelled. I talked to him about it at that reception. “Steve, you know, we have a lot of West Virginia Military Families,” he said. I said “Look, I’m an Air Force brat. I know military families, believe me. Army families are over it. It’s not a big deal.” So, we had this conversation back and forth. it was very good. And then, for family reasons I now know, but didn’t know him well, he missed voting on “Don’t ask, don’t tell. At the time, I didn’t see it as a coward. I knew he was against the change. Losing the vote kept him out of that.” It wouldn’t be in his favour. Anyway, I got a call, you know, from him and he says “come and see me.” We had a conversation and it kind of led to my deep appreciation for how seriously he took a lot of annoying and interesting things, like corruption.
Rayan: Where did you meet him?
Steve: in his office. I mean, I didn’t want to meet him. I didn’t want him to call.
Steve: Oh, no, I didn’t want to. I mean, Heather Brych [Sen. Manchin’s daughter] He called me and said, “My dad will call you,” and I said, “I really prefer not to call you.” We went up there, and at that time the detainee’s discussions were raging and I found them serious. I found it dangerous and said, ‘Do you know what? I don’t like where he is’ Don’t ask, don’t tell, ‘But he does some interesting things and now I have an inner path to talk to him about serious matters, and I won’t agree with him on everything.’ Well, hold this place for a minute. On the way, The Atlantic asked me to host what we call the Editors’ Breakfast, a Saturday morning before the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Rachel Maddow had her new book on military issues called “The Drift,” and she said, “Do you meet me, Steve?” And I said, “Okay, I’ll do an interview with you if I can do it at the Editors’ Breakfast. That would be kind of a hot ticket. I could interview you at the Reporters’ Dinner.” , as you know? But that wasn’t what I wanted and it was missing… What is the unusual part of the spice in this? And I said to myself, “Wow, Joe Mansion.” So I call, i.e. …
Rayan: Which is what everyone thinks of when they think of unusual spices in a social situation.
Steve: But he was a member of the Armed Forces Committee at the time. I called Rachel and said, “Listen, do you mind if I put Joe Mansion on stage with you? You guys are like oil and water. It would be interesting to see this, where you agree and where you disagree. I just think it would add a lot.” She says, “Okay. Is he going to do that?” I called and said I’ll find out. So, I called him that night and he said, in less than two seconds, sure. I just went. And then when I did what I thought was, for the sake of bias, a really cool interview with him about the military and defense issues and the big issues of the day, I said “Oh, let’s go into the audience.” Rachel jumped out of her chair and [said] “Can I be the first to ask the senator a question?” I jumped in, then asked him about his stance on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the gay community.
Rayan: Have you prepared it to do this?
Steve: No, she did it on her own. Then he said to her, “You know, today, if we want to vote again, I’ll vote for cancellation.” He changed his mind about it. By Monday night he was on her show. So I asked this thing about getting people together and changing things and getting that… I mean, that kind of thing is what I live for, right? Hundreds of times this kind of thing has happened, but you kind of figured out, how do you make it fun?
What’s on Manchin’s mind:
Rayan: I heard that last night [the night of January 12] You had an enjoyable dinner.
Rayan: So, who did you have dinner with last night, Steve?
Steve: The first supper or the second supper?
Rayan: Well, I don’t know. Let’s listen to this.
Steve: No, I mean, like sorry, I have to be careful, but I had dinner with Joe Manchin and with Randy Weingarten at Café Milano. And I think, Randy…
Rayan: This is on the eve of Joe Biden’s ascension to the Senate to speak at the caucus lunch and basically lobby [Senators] Manchin and Kirsten Sinema to change their views on disruption and support for voting rights. It’s eve… Dinner with Joe Manchin on the eve of one of the most important days of his Senate career.
Steve: I can talk about what I think the players are doing [unintelligible]. I’d rather not just talk about talking over dinner.
Rayan: Well, I think it was reported that Randy was trying. Randy helped him settle voting rights legislation.
Steve: What Randy did, she said, look, you had a problem… a lot in Washington, I just want to be honest with people, sometimes… It’s not a job of corruption or vested interests. Sometimes it’s just a sign of a lack of imagination, or that people are driven by inertia. I kind of see a role that fits my role as an opinion journalist. I’m not a newspaper reporter, am I? This is a huge difference different, as a person has views and attitudes. But I try to be responsible and transparent about it in responsible ways. I also see my role as one of opening the door to various people who are in conflict or not there. Open the aperture so they can see possibilities they might not have thought otherwise. I look at that as a legitimate and actually required part of my role in Washington, right?
I think the point is that Joe Manchin, as I knew, he thought 1 SAR was very full of things that had nothing to do with openness or restrictions on voting, and also that it was full of issues that were more about social reform than it was. About handling of voting questions. And he was dead against SR 1. What he was up for was the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. But anyone who has looked at the commendable and important John Lewis Voting Rights Act knows that it doesn’t go far enough to address many of the problems with voting that we’ve seen lately, particularly with voter suppression and all sorts of things. I think his opinion was that we should amend this. “Well what you’re really doing is talking about John Lewis Plus,” I humbly suggested. Randy suggested speaking to Stacey Abrams, and in the manner of Joe Mansion–because he tried to be so chivalrous, so sweet– [said] “Yeah, sure. Sure, we’ll do that.” But it was a long time before this call with Stacey actually happened. They had multiple calls, and then he and Stacey really worked out the voting rights chart of things that identified some things, like voter identity that were uncomfortable for Democrats but were potential paths of Republican support. But they kind of tied it pebbles, something, together. Barack Obama and other people came with them and applauded. Even Joe Biden says “I applaud that.” So they came up with something.
Rayan: It’s the bill they’re going to vote on this week, and we’re sitting here.
Steve: What I learned last night, what I learned recently is something I didn’t know – and because I don’t know everything about Joe Mansion, I don’t know everything about him [what’s] Being – is that Freedom of Vote Bill, which in short a lot of people thought was some sort of Joe Mansion, Stacey Abrams… Joe Mansion thinks it’s not, it’s not. They didn’t write the bill. She did not have the language. There are still a lot of things he doesn’t like and that the Rules Committee chaired by Senator Klobuchar has put together something that is no longer his bill. I didn’t know that.
Rayan: Huh. This is the Freedom of Voting Act that…
Steve: …which we thought it was. His name is not on it. He is not a shepherd. So I think the big issue is that progressives like Randy Weingarten and others – I don’t want to put words in her mouth – see that they think democracy is at stake. That the Republicans, when they come back, which they will likely do in the next House of Representatives elections, will do, they think, whatever to win it, or to keep winning or whatever. So this moment is really important to have the right infrastructure so that the game remains fair and people can continue to have the right to vote and they will. They view this as a really vital moment and that what had to happen, even if Joe Manchin didn’t agree to cut to the stall, was that they had to get this legislation on the floor to discuss it publicly and vetted so that all sides could be seen where it was They were trying to restrict it or allow it to be of high quality.
In my book, Joe Manchin gives an opportunity to critique the Freedom of Voting Act. I don’t know if he will or not. It’s all happening in real time now, so I don’t know what he’s going to do in that regard. But I was surprised to learn that after all the effort in all the applause for what he and Stacy Abrams did together, the so-called bill isn’t the bill on the floor. So this was new to me. This is a big, big deal because it gives Manchin a way out of supporting this if he doesn’t want to support him, right? So I think there is a dimension out there that I think has not been reported.
Rayan: so interesting.
Steve: So I think the flip side of it is that they want to put it out there. But then, as we all know, with what’s going on on the ground right now, is that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have agreed in this house-to-house liaison to replace the Freedom of Voting Act in legislation on a voting rights act, the Lewis Voting Rights Act, to allow discussion of this bill. But then to go vote and debate, they came back at the moment when 60 votes were needed. This is where people catch or chop the bait, so to speak. I don’t know where Senator Manchin is going, but I know the progressive community hopes to see people there. I think the other dimension is there again — not putting Senator Manchin there, but he’s been public about it — but his frustration is, he said, electoral certification, and the Electoral College accreditation process needs reform. Even Mitch McConnell has said that and others say you can’t allow a House member and senator to derail millions of votes and invalidate or paralyze those votes from their states. It’s frustrating that we don’t raise and offer those uncontroversial or less controversial opportunities to secure bipartisanship for this sacred voting process so we don’t have a repeat of January 6th again. He’s frustrated with leadership that doesn’t allow those moments to happen and puts these things first and then brings them back. So I just want to be honest that I want to make it clear, I don’t want to speak on his behalf. I don’t want to speak for Randy, but I think that’s where the tension is and maybe some of that was discussed last night.