On Wednesday evening, the United States Senate voted to confirm Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions as President Donald Trump’s attorney general. The final count was 52 in favor, 47 against. Sessions himself simply voted as “present.”
The vote was, in many ways, a predictable one: Republicans unanimously supported Sessions, while Democrats lined up against his confirmation. All, that is, except one: West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who broke with his party to vote alongside his GOP colleagues.
According to Senate observers, Manchin appeared enthusiastic as he cast his ballot for Sessions.
In a statement announcing his vote for Sessions, Manchin explained that, “as a former Governor, I understand how crucial it is for an executive leader to have his team in place. I have known Jeff for more than a decade and he is not only my colleague but I consider him a friend.”
“After working with him in many capacities during my time in the United States Senate, I believe I can work with Senator Sessions and that is why I voted to make him the next attorney general of the United States,” Manchin continued, citing Sessions’ “extensive career in public service and legal expertise.”
“I’ve built relationships and friendships here. I don’t care whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, independents,” Manchin said. “We were sent here, basically sent here to work to make America better, and Jeff Sessions, I’ve known him for six years. We’ve been friends, we talk about an array of things. I have never detected, never one ounce of detection, that Jeff Sessions is what [critics] have said.”
In addition to his personal feelings about Sessions, Manchin has also come out in favor of another Trump administration agenda item: support for the coal industry.
Manchin was also rumored at one time to be President Trump’s possible choice as Energy Secretary—a nomination that ultimately went to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The senator has supported all but one of Trump’s cabinet nominees (Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) but it’s his vote for Sessions which seems to have raised the most ire among many of his critics—and stoked rumblings of a tough re-election bid in 2018.
Manchin has yet to publicly respond to criticism of his latest vote.