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WASHINGTON — Everybody wants to know where Sen. Joe Manchin’s hideaway is in the Capitol.

The West Virginia Democrat has all eyes on his tall frame as he makes his way through the ornate halls for votes.

President Joe Biden knows that this Joe could make or break his 50-50 hold on the Senate. A tie goes to the White House.

“It’s Manchin’s Senate now,” a CNN correspondent said on the small Senate subway.

“One man, one vote,” I replied.

Really, it’s one Manchin, one vote.

The delicate applecart depends upon a conservative Southern Democrat sticking with his party for the big votes coming.

Infrastructure, voting rights and gun safety — and which is the greatest of these?

In all cases, Manchin will likely have the last word in his caucus on what goes in and out of the bill. Republicans would love to poach him.

Manchin loves center stage and plays the part well. Charm is in short supply lately in the Senate, but he’s hale and hearty, a young 73 with a spring in his step.

Truly, Manchin has an old Hollywood matinee look, like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” He comes from a small coal-mining town, like the late great Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd, whose seat he took in 2010.

Similar to the movie character, Manchin puts faith in the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass a bill.

In the old days, that meant holding and speaking in floor debate for hours on end, but that doesn’t happen anymore.

So nearly all Senate Democrats want to rid themselves of the 60-vote bar to pass urgent New Deal-style legislation.

Biden passed a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill. Now he wants to spend even more on jobs and infrastructure.

The president and his party may get their way. In a lucky turn, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that infrastructure only requires a majority vote. If Congress passes it, that would rack up another early win for Biden.

When voting rights and gun control hit the floor, however, there’s no easy path to the required 60 votes. It’s likely to be like walking on thorns, so divided is the Senate chamber.

But here’s the thing: Manchin believes in reaching out to the other side, a philosophy he practiced in the Trump years. He declared he expects a good faith effort by fellow Democrats to work with Republicans and reach agreement on voting rights and gun reform.

Democrats, weary of the battering they took during the Trump years, doubt that Manchin can deliver 10 Republican votes on two deeply contested issues. But they have to try, because that’s what Manchin wants.

Whatever Manchin wants. It’s a simple rule of thumb across the Democratic landscape.

To his credit, Manchin expects Senate Republicans to come to the table to negotiate differences the way it used to be: politics as the art of the possible.

Some say that’s hopelessly naive. But Manchin holds the ace in his hand: the fate of the filibuster. He forcefully defends it now but has the power to dismantle it because, ironically, that requires just 50 votes in the Senate.

It’s hard not to like Manchin. He believes differences can be overcome. He refuses to write off half his Senate colleagues from the South and plains.

He’s a popular Democrat from a red state. He knows his own mind and speaks it. He thinks the system can work, still.

Yet Democrats just took control of the White House, the Senate and the House. Winning the trifecta usually means a breeze at your back.

But now they have a Manchin brake on that breeze.


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