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In Closed-Door Event With Corporate Lobbyists, Manchin Vows $15 Wage 'Not Going to Happen'

A top restaurant industry lobbyist reportedly "couldn't contain his excitement" at the West Virginia Democrat's remarks.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) speaks during a news conference with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on December 14, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) speaks during a news conference with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on December 14, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Al Drago for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia on Tuesday reportedly mocked the popular push for a $15 federal minimum wage during a private event with restaurant industry lobbyists, telling attendees he prefers an hourly wage floor of $11 and nothing "above half of that" for tipped workers.

According to The Daily Poster, Manchin specifically singled out Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—one of the leading proponents of a $15 minimum wage in Congress—in remarks at the conference, which was hosted by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), a powerful lobbying group that has been fighting the Raise the Wage Act for years.

"We've been having meetings on minimum wage, and I can't for the life of me understand why they don't take a win on $11," said the West Virginia senator. "Bernie Sanders is totally committed in his heart and soul that $15 is the way to go. Well, it might be the way to go, Bernie, but it ain't gonna go. You don't have the votes for it. It's not going to happen. So they're going to walk away with their pride, saying we fought for $15, got nothing."

"If it comes down to one person," Manchin added, "I don't believe it should be above $11, I don't think the tipped wage should ever go above half of that."

The Daily Poster's Joel Warner and Andrew Perez reported that Sean Kennedy, the NRA's top lobbyist, "couldn't contain his excitement" at Manchin's comments.

"From your lips to God's ears," said Kennedy, who sent a letter (pdf) to congressional leaders in February urging them to reject the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers—a proposal that's anathema to many in the restaurant industry.

Last month, Manchin was one of eight Democratic senators who joined Republicans in voting down Sanders' attempt to reattach a $15 minimum wage provision to the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus relief package. Senate Democrats removed the provision from the original bill in deference to the Senate parliamentarian, an unelected official who said the proposed wage hike violated arcane budget reconciliation rules.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who voted against the Sanders amendment with a theatrical and now-infamous thumbs-down, joined Manchin in speaking at the NRA event on Tuesday.

During her remarks, according to The Daily Poster, Sinema said she believes that "achieving lasting results on the issues that matter to everyday Americans really requires bipartisan solutions."

HuffPost reported earlier this month that Sinema is working with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on legislation that would increase the federal minimum wage, but the details—including the wage floor the bill will propose—have not been finalized. The federal minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 an hour, has not been raised since 2009.

Asked about the Sinema-Romney bill, Manchin told HuffPost, "I think it's $11."

If so, that would be lower than the current $12 minimum wage in Sinema's home state of Arizona, where a strong majority of voters favor raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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