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Manchin and Martinez recall a friendlier Senate, urge compromise at Institute of Politics forum

Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin

by Mark Blackwell Thomas, University Communications

Compassion, cooperation and policy took center stage March 1 at the keynote event of the “Celebrating Civility” speaker series hosted by the Institute of Politics at Florida State University. 

The virtual forum featured U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican and FSU alumnus. Al Cardenas, who is an adjunct faculty member at the institute and the former chair of the Florida Republican Party, served as moderator of the discussion. 

With more than 1,500 people registered to watch online, Manchin and Martinez reminisced about the friendliness and bipartisanship that they say are in short supply in today’s Congress, as well as discussing policy and the prospects for legislation currently before lawmakers. 

FSU President John Thrasher gave a brief introduction and noted that the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol helps illustrate the need for the nonpartisan institute. 

“Sadly, recent events have shown us that we have a lot of work to do to heal the wounds that this partisan divide has inflicted on our country,”  Thrasher said. “The nonpartisan Institute of Politics at FSU aims to do its part by conducting relevant research and educating both students and citizens about the political process and encouraging responsible civic engagement and respectful freedom of expression.”

Today’s Senate is shaped, Manchin said, by the attack on the Capitol, an event he said was a pivotal moment for him. 

“Like most Americans, January 6 changed me and moved me,” he said. “How in the world did we get in this position? I never thought in my wildest dreams we’d see in our country our form of government attacked by our own people.”

The road past such division, Manchin said, is paved with compromise. 

Martinez agreed and said America’s founding fathers created a system that favors and facilitates policy born through compromise but that today’s politics has strayed from those ideals. Returning to thoughtful disagreement linked by shared fundamental goals is a more powerful tool than extremism, Martinez said. 

“If we do that, then those voices of discord who had their say on January 6 will be relegated to the dustbin of history where they belong,” he added. 

Manchin said he was optimistic that a version of the proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill would pass, though he was less sure about the possibility of it including a $15 minimum hourly wage. Manchin and Martinez agreed that indexing the minimum wage so that it kept pace with inflation would be a permanent solution. 

Both Martinez and Manchin said they believed that common ground also could be found in an infrastructure plan.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was slated to take part in the event but withdrew for health reasons after a fall last weekend in which he was knocked unconscious. Romney said in a statement he received stitches and was “doing better.”

While the hour-long discussion delved into broader topics, including immigration, education and the confirmation process for cabinet appointees, civility was an undercurrent throughout. 

With the notions of finding common ground and compromise in mind, Manchin said he believes the U.S. Senate can set a powerful example for the country. 

“I’ve got 99 friends in that Senate and no matter how far right or far left they are, they are people,” he said. “I believe, now more than ever, we need to cooperate.”

To watch the forum in its entirety, visit this link at the YouTube channel for the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, which houses the institute. 

For more information on the Institute of Politics, visit www.iopfsu.com/.