West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who's facing a tough re-election this year, has come out strongly in favor of President Trump's embattled pick to lead the CIA this week -- and now is also backing up the administration on its decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear agreement. Unlike other anti-deal Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez (along with some Republicans) who have castigated Trump's move, Manchin says he's fully behind the president on this issue. The blue dog Democrat joined my new national radio show, Benson and Harf, yesterday afternoon:
GB: Do you support President Trump's decision to pull out?
Manchin: Absolutely, and I'm going to tell you why. The deal that I voted against when it came up was the wrong deal at that time. It's the wrong deal if we stay in it. We've got to bring people to the table, and I'm going to tell you that with that, we basically have a very short time period of 15 years. We never even touched the missile [issue], and they've been enhancing their missile capabilities. There's only one reason to have a missile program: To deliver a warhead. That's it. So Iran's been very adamant about that. We gave them $150 billion on the front end, never made them earn their way back into good standing. They've been the most prolific terrorism supporters in the world. We need to hold them accountable.
He went on to say that Iran has "been cheating on the deal, we've known that," noting Iran's illicit relationship with the North Koreans, and perhaps referencing other worrisome reports and allegations against the regime. Most supporters of the pact insist that Iran has been "in compliance," their original lie on a key prerequisite notwithstanding. But as co-host Marie Harf and I later discussed with Senator Marco Rubio, even if you grant the point that Iran is in full compliance, the core problem of the automatically sunsetting enforcement provisions remains. Barack Obama has acknowledged that under the accord's terms, Iran is within a decade-plus of being a threshold nuclear-armed state, with the vast majority of its nuclear program intact. Manchin's strong support for Trump's Iran call represents another marked departure from virtually all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill, to the point that I nodded along through most of his response to that question.
Later in the interview, I did ask him some pointed questions about his support for Hillary Clinton, who barely won more than a quarter of the votes in the state Manchin represents. That's a disconnect that Republicans will hammer at relentlessly over the next six months, which is why I pressed him on whether he still wishes Hillary, and not Trump, were president today. After a few evasions, Manchin appeared to conclude, "I don't know." Manchin may want to develop a more buttoned-up answer on this point in the coming months, as he'll be challenged over the issue a lot in a state Trump carried by more than 40 points. I can understand why Manchin would prefer the president stay out of West Virginia before November, but I suspect that...won't be happening.
Regardless, as I said on Twitter after the show, I found Manchin to be a very nice, warm guy, and I respect both his voice in DC and the fact that he came on the show to take tough questions. Before you go, be sure to listen to our radio exclusive conversation with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. We asked him, among other things, about tax reform, judges, Iran, Bob Mueller, and the conservative critique that Congressional Republicans are squandering nearly a full year of unified GOP government by dragging their feet in 2018. But our very first question was whether we could call him 'Cocaine Mitch.' His reply on that point, and our full interview, is here: