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Sen. Joe Manchin says Trump ‘called me all the time.’ Senator said he was ready ‘to stay and fight’ during Capitol riots

WASHINGTON – When Sen. Joe Manchin learned a throng of pro-Trump protestors was threatening to disrupt Congress’ count of the Electoral College votes in the Capitol on Jan. 6, the 73-year-old, 6-foot-3 former football standout said he was not ready to back down.

“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.”

Manchin was a rare Democrat who had a friendly relationship with former President Donald Trump, At one point, there were reports the president wanted to name him as his energy secretary (which would have given West Virginia’s Republican governor a chance to fill Manchin’s Senate seat), but the senator withdrew his name from consideration.

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President Donald Trump speaks with Sen. Joe Manchin after addressing a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

Manchin would sour on Trump, voting to impeach the president twice, including in February on a charge he incited the Jan. 6 mob to attack Congress. Trump was acquitted both times.

West Virginia’s senior senator told USA TODAY he still can’t believe the events that unfolded that day as Congress affirmed Joe Biden’s presidential victory. Although he had already determined by the time of the insurrection that the former president was a divisive force, Manchin said the events of Jan. 6 still stun him.

Manchin sat down in his Capitol Hill office with USA TODAY to discuss several topics, including Trump’s rhetoric that he said contributed to the Jan. 6 attack, his ability to pare back some of Biden’s progressive agenda, and his insistence that the Senate filibuster remains despite pressure from Democrats to do away with it so any bill could pass with 51 votes instead of 60.

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On Trump and Jan. 6:

Manchin: “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.”

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