'Shared roots': West Virginia senators key to Biden agenda

Manchin Capito

WASHINGTON (AP) — He’s known her for as long as he can remember, once challenging “Shel” to a heart-pumping zipline race down a rugged mountaintop.

The way she tells it, they actually first met when he came to measure the carpeting for her new house in the 1970s.

The two U.S. senators from West Virginia, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, grew up in politically prominent families and now find themselves playing central roles in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plans.

Manchin is a crucial 50th vote for Democrats on Biden’s sweeping proposals. Capito is the lead Republican negotiator on an alternative, meeting Tuesday with key Cabinet secretaries and White House officials coming to Capitol Hill.

Both are heirs to the political tradition of the late Senate leader Robert C. Byrd, who funneled so much federal investment back home that hardly a highway or civic structure dots the landscape without his name.

Not only is the state counting on its two senators to deliver, but Manchin and Capito have become indispensable voices whose votes can make or break Biden's big infrastructure agenda. Both senators have been to the White House as the president courts Congress on his top legislative priority.

“Suddenly you have this small, poor, mountainous state (that) has not just one but two senators highly involved with infrastructure,” said Robert Rupp, a political history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

“If you wrote a script, it couldn’t be any better than that,” Rupp said.

The two children of political families have been here before. Capito's late father, Arch Moore, was a three-term governor and six-term congressman. Manchin's father and grandfather were mayors of his tiny hometown, Farmington, and an uncle was a state lawmaker and administrator.

Manchin remembers always seeing Capito, a few years younger, at events. She pinpoints their first meeting on another infrastructure