There’s an old saying which suggests that if you’re looking for loyalty in Washington, you should get a dog. It’s a biting sentiment—one that taps into America’s deep-seated cynicism about politics. There’s no doubting that Washington has certainly seen its share of scoundrels through the years. But in a country as diverse as ours—and in a legislative body as complex as our Congress—we need leaders capable of bridging differences, crafting compromises, and putting the country’s interests above their own. And no one has proven his loyalty to the greater good as consistently as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
To understand why Sen. Manchin is so special, you have to understand the real problem with Washington. The easy thing to do in our nation’s capital is to say you won’t vote for anything that doesn’t adhere to everything you want. The hard thing to do is to realize that the greater good is best served by accommodating a range of interests. By that standard, the most courageous leaders in Washington are those who reach out across the aisle even when it puts their own party’s parochial interest in jeopardy. And that’s exactly how Sen. Manchin approaches the job.
For the last decade, it has been my mission to make Congress behave more like it would if every member were as courageous as Joe Manchin. When I founded No Labels, the primary problem facing Washington was clear enough: Members were frightened to step out of line. The consequences of reaching across the aisle—primary challenges, lost committee seats, diminished influence—were so drastic that most members thought it better to toe the line.
Joe Manchin has consistently proven the exception. And he’s put himself in considerable political jeopardy, perpetually making himself a target for liberals who think he should be a rubber stamp for whatever the Democratic leaders want, and for Republicans, who think his Senate seat would be better filled with someone who voted with the GOP leadership without question.
Sen. Manchin takes incoming fire from both flanks all the time—and that’s why voters in West Virginia keep sending him back to the Senate. That’s why we’ve made him an honorary co-chair of No Labels. And it’s why today, on his birthday, I think it’s important that people understand the qualities that make him so indispensable in Washington—a model we hope more elected official choose to follow.
The examples of Sen. Manchin’s commitment to bipartisanship are too numerous to cite—but a few stand out. Recall that West Virginia went about as strongly for President Trump as any state in the country; it’s the kind of place that the NRA would surely consider a stronghold. Nevertheless, in the wake of the 2012 Newtown tragedy, Manchin sponsored a bill with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to close the gun show loophole that allows individuals to purchase firearms without background checks. The effort fell short at the time—but he’s kept at it and, in the aftermath of El Paso and Dayton, he’s trying again.
Or consider his relationship with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) who serves as No Labels other honorary co-chair. Rarely in today’s politics do you see a senator endorse across the aisle—but Sen. Manchin decided to stick his neck out for Sen. Collins, even as she’s maybe the most targeted Republican incumbent up for re-election in the coming cycle. If his work on guns earned him the ire of the right, his support for Collins has made him a villain on the left. But in both cases, he’s doing what he thinks is right for the country. That’s true patriotism. And it’s why we owe him a debt of gratitude.
When it comes to issues of true importance, some leaders in Washington stir the pot, and others work to find a solution. Joe Manchin is one of the few leaders capable of bridging the partisan divide in Washington. Whether or not it’s true that the only real loyalty that can be forged in Washington is between an owner and a dog, Joe Manchin has proven that loyalty to country can, in some cases, overcome the fealty that too many elected officials have for their party. He’s clearing the path for others to follow.
Nancy Jacobson is the founder and CEO of No Labels.