The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: Who’s on the Phones With Joe Manchin?

Joe Manchin standing in a hallway, holding a phone to each ear. Three people stand in the foreground.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

What search term was used to find this in Getty?
“joe manchin”

What were you hoping to find?
A photo of the senator from West Virginia, who’s no stranger to this column.

What did you find instead?
Manchin, standing in a hallway in the Capitol, holding a phone to each ear. He looks relaxed and cheerful. The two phones are a solid, if slightly clichéd, visual gag: He’s a busy guy in the Capitol—he’s got to multitask!

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Manchin’s two phones remind me of a similar situation from 2016, when artist and writer Kenny Keil highlighted several unnerving photos that seemed to show Sen. Ted Cruz wearing two watches. There was a mundane explanation in that case—one of the “watches” was a Fitbit—but Manchin’s centrality to any congressional talks makes this improvised conference call more intriguing.

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What’s the actual backstory here?
This July 13 photo was taken after a bipartisan infrastructure meeting on the Hill. Manchin, who wields an ungodly amount of power over the fate of Biden’s legislative agenda, is perhaps one of the few people who could look this laid-back after a Senate negotiation these days.

In a significant win for Biden, the Senate did pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill in August, which was negotiated in part by Manchin and his fellow centrist rabble-rouser Kyrsten Sinema.

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All eyes are on Manchin again this week, after he threw a wrench in the works by expressing his unwillingness to support Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. This impasse threatens the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, which some House Democrats feel is insufficient without also passing the larger reconciliation package. Needless to say, it’s a big mess.

But whom is he talking to on the phones? What is he talking about?
Joe Biden in one ear and Nancy Pelosi in the other? Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell? The editors of the Wall Street Journal and the Charleston Gazette-Mail? Your guess is as good as mine.

As for the content of the calls, we’re also limited to speculation. A recent report from Seung Min Kim, a White House reporter for the Washington Post, does offer some clues on Manchin’s recent talking points.

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Why is this the weird photo of the week?
Taking two phone calls at once is quite the power move on Manchin’s part. It’s his world, and the rest of us are just living in it.

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