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Joe Manchin says he's 'praying' for an end to 50-50 Senate as it breaks for election

The result of the Nov. 8 midterms could shape the lame-duck session, in which Congress has a packed agenda full of must-pass bills and other priorities for both parties.
Image: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.,, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Sept. 22, 2022.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on Sept. 22.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Shortly before the Senate adjourned for a six-week recess ahead of the midterm election, the linchpin of Democrats' narrow majority said he's ready for a change.

“I’m just praying to God it’s not 50-50 again,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told NBC News on Thursday. “I’d like for Democrats to be 51-49. But whatever happens, I hope it’s not a 50-50.”

Manchin has been the decisive vote on a host of Democratic priorities over a tumultuous two-year period representing a state that President Joe Biden lost by 39 points in 2020. While other politicians might lust for that kind of power, Manchin — who has borne the brunt of progressive ire for scaling back their ambitious agenda — insisted he would be happier if it didn't all hinge on him.

“It is what it is. You’ve got to do your job,” Manchin said. “But let’s just see what happens. I think — maybe some changes.”

The Senate recessed Thursday after passing a government funding bill and sending it to the House, which is expected to pass it Friday and also adjourn. That leaves a jam-packed agenda for the lame-duck session after the midterm elections. And the result of the Nov. 8 elections, when voters will elect one-third of the Senate and the full House, could shape what gets done in the lame-duck session.

On the agenda: A full-year funding package by Dec. 16. A massive defense authorization bill. An election reform package to prevent another Jan. 6. A measure to codify federal protections for same-sex marriage. A bill to overhaul infrastructure and energy permitting. And more votes to confirm Biden's picks for judges.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the battle for the Senate will be tight. “We’re in a bunch of close races. I think we have a 50-50 shot of getting the Senate back,” he told reporters this week. “It’s going to be really, really close either way, in my view.”

If Republicans notch big victories, they may feel more empowered to make demands in the final stretch of the year. If Democrats maintain control of the Senate, they may feel less pressure to rush through judges before the new year.

“We still have much to do,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said before adjourning the chamber. “Members should be prepared for an extremely — underline, extremely — busy agenda in the last two months of this Congress.”

There’s already talk of combining some of the items. For instance, senators have discussed adding permitting reform, a major priority of Manchin's, to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act. Others have mused about tacking the election legislation onto the NDAA.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of things tacked onto a couple of bills,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is retiring at the end of the year. “It’s going to be a very busy three weeks.”

By the time the Senate returns on Nov. 14, it may not be clear which party will be in the majority. If Democrats finish election night with 49 seats and the hotly contested Georgia seat held by Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., proceeds to a runoff, the fight for the majority won’t be settled until Dec. 6. (State law requires a runoff if neither candidate tops 50% of the vote in the general election.)

NBC News asked Schumer, before he left the Capitol, how many nominees he hopes to confirm during the rest of the year. He responded: “We want to do as many as we can.”

Manchin, who has been solidly in favor of Biden's judges, said he's proud of what Congress has achieved so far in the Democratic trifecta. “It’s been a good two years for the country,” he said. “The president’s done well.”

Asked about his remarks, West Virginia's other senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, said she also hopes for an end to the 50-50 Senate. She said she wants her party to seize control and make her the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“I hope it’s not 50-50,” Capito said in a brief interview. “Because I want to be chairman of EPW.”