Sen. Joe Manchin said Thursday that he never considered leaving the Democratic Party as a tactic in negotiations over his party's spending plans, as Mother Jones reported this week, but that he instead discussed becoming an independent to avoid embarrassing other Democrats.
"The only thing that was ever said that we've ever talked about if I'm an embarrassment to my, my Democratic colleagues, my caucus, the president being the Democratic leader of the Democrat Party, Chuck Schumer and all them," Manchin said in response to a question from Fox News. "I said me being a moderate centrist Democrat, if that causes you a problem let me know and I'd switch to be an independent, but I'd still be caucusing with Democrats."
Manchin added: "That's the only thing was ever discussed, no one accepted that, and I just said, 'I'll make that offer if you need it.'"
If Manchin's comments are truthful, they pour cold water on the idea that Democrats have ever been in trouble of losing control of the Senate because of a Manchin defection. Even if the senator changed his party affiliation to independent, if he continued to caucus with Democrats they would maintain their de facto majority of 50 members plus Vice President Kamala Harris.
Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both are independents who caucus with Democrats.
Manchin's comments also contradict the initial reporting by Mother Jones that the senator had a two-step plan to leave the party if he did not get his way on potential cuts to Democrats' massive spending plan they are attempting to pass through budget reconciliation.
Mother Jones reported that Manchin would resign from his Senate Democratic leadership, post and if that did not jar loose concessions from his colleagues, he would leave the party. The Mother Jones story said it was unclear whether Manchin would caucus with Republicans or Democrats in that case.
Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who wrote the initial story about the senator considering bolting the party, stood by his story on Thursday after the senator's comments.
"Today [Manchin] came out with a yes-but cover story," Corn tweeted. "But his latest spin is also not true."
Senators have changed their parties while sitting in office before. Most recently, former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched from a Republican to a Democrat in 2009. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut changed his party from Democrat to independent in 2006. And current Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama switched his party from Democrat to Republican in 1994.
But perhaps the most impactful change in party affiliation was former Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who switched his party from Republican to independent in 2001. He also started caucusing with Democrats.
At that time, the Senate was split 50-50 with the GOP in the majority thanks to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Therefore, Jeffords' switch changed the party that controlled the Senate. If Manchin made a similar switch now the GOP would gain control of the Senate.