West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who has been getting a lot of press recently because of how critical his Senate votes are to the success of President Joe Biden’s policy initiatives, is a big man. Even though he’s 73 years old, the 6-foot-3 senator says that his first instinct when he learned that rioters were in the Capitol on Jan. 6 was to confront them and do battle.
“My intention was to stay and fight: ‘Let ’em in. Let’s go at it.’ But I didn’t know what was going on,” the West Virginia Democrat told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview. “You had a lot of people chanting. I didn’t think anything of that. But within 10 or 15 minutes, a SWAT team comes in with all of their gear and says ‘You guys are out of here. Just go now. Don’t even stop.”
The one-time high school football player did indeed follow Capitol Police directives and exited the chamber just minutes before the Donald Trump-incited insurrectionists burst onto the Senate floor and began rummaging through lawmakers’ desks.
Manchin also told the newspaper that he still can’t believe the events that took place in the Capitol that as Congress sought to affirm Joe Biden’s presidential victory. He says that while he came to recognize how divisive Trump was, he’s still stunned that the twice-impeached former president was able ignite the level of rage that propelled thousands of his supporters to storm the Capitol and assault law enforcement officers during the deadly siege.
“I heard the Trump rhetoric forever. I got along well with Donald Trump. We had a good rapport. He called me all the time. We talked back and forth,” he said.
But “he liked conflicts and he liked that turmoil. And that’s fine if you’re in business. But for public service, it doesn’t work. The whole principle of public service is to bring people together to get a consensus. And Donald Trump’s not made that way. So when I started coming to that conclusion, I’m thinking that’s just a lot of rhetoric. I didn’t know there was that type of fever and pent-up hatred in people he allowed them to unleash.”
The senior senator from West Virginia says that the biggest lesson he learned from Trump’s actions and the events of Jan. 6 is this: “Politically, more than anything else. How fragile we are. How close we came to losing our country.”