(AP) -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said that he has been thinking "seriously" about leaving the Democratic Party and becoming an independent.
The West Virginia lawmaker, who has raised his national profile as a swing vote on major spending packages in the closely divided U.S. Senate, made the comments on MetroNews "Talkline" on Thursday.
"I would think very seriously about that. I've been thinking about that for quite some time. I haven't made any decisions whatsoever on any of my political direction," Manchin said. "I want to make sure my voice is truly an independent voice, when I'm speaking I'm speaking about the good the Republicans do and the good the Democrats continue to do."
Manchin hasn't officially announced whether he will run for reelection, but two Republicans, Gov. Jim Justice and Rep. Alex Mooney, have already announced their candidacies for his Senate seat. The senator had recruited Justice to run for governor as a Democrat before Justice switched to the GOP at a rally for former President Donald Trump during his first term.
The comments from Manchin on Thursday are the most serious he's made about a possible switch to independent.
"For me, I have to have peace of mind basically," he said. "The brand has become so bad. The 'D' brand and 'R' brand. In West Virginia, the 'D' brand because it's nationally bad. It's not the Democrats in West Virginia. It's the Democrats in Washington or the Washington policies of the Democrats. You've heard me say a million times that I'm not a Washington Democrat."
In the Democratic caucus, his colleagues over the past few years have grown weary of Manchin, whose vote is one of two they cannot live without in a 51-49 Senate -- but whose nearly constant chides at many in party, particularly Democratic President Joe Biden has left them concerned that he could switch parties and take away their slim hold on power.
One of his most stunning rebukes of his party came in December 2021 when after months of painstaking negotiations directly with the White House, Manchin pulled his support from a $2 trillion social and environment bill, dealing a fatal blow to Biden's leading domestic initiative in his first year in office.
Months later, in a shocking turn of events, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer crafted a compromise package to ultimately pass and sign into law a modest domestic bill focused on healthcare and combating climate change.