Joe Manchin’s Houseboat

The flagship of the centrist Navy is both a throwback and a sign of what's wrong with the Senate.

A YahooNews reposting of a Telegraph story is headlined “Most powerful man you’ve never heard of: Meet the boat-dwelling, gun-toting Democrat with the future of America in his hands.” As you might have guessed, the man is West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and anyone reading this has certainly heard of him and is painfully aware of how much power he wields. But it’s quite possible you were unaware, as I was, of the boat.

He dislikes the capital city so much that in his decade there he has refused to buy or rent a home.

Instead, he lives and works on a 40ft boat, which cost far less than any property on land.

His water-based residence has emerged as a convivial getaway where Democrats and Republicans can mingle privately away from the toxic atmosphere of Congress.

He takes political friends and foes on evening cruises along the Potomac River, serving pizza and beer, and his boat has been dubbed the “flagship of the centrist Navy”.

While Mr Biden promised bipartisanship, in practice it is Mr Manchin who is actually pursuing it. Republicans are currently talking, not to the White House, but to “the other Joe”.

[…]

Mr Manchin calls himself a “West Virginia Democrat not a Washington Democrat” and frequently declares that “my worst day as West Virginia governor was better than my best day as a Washington senator”.

When he eventually retires he wants to drive his boat back home to West Virginia.

Bipartisan gatherings over pizza and beer are very much a throwback to the Senate of yesteryear, which was much more convivial. Alas, the refusal to live in DC—and, indeed, the utter disdain for DC—is very much part of the modern ethos that has made the Senate a broken institution.

When I moved to the DC area from Alabama almost nineteen years ago, I very much enjoyed the opportunities, both professional and recreational, that the proximity to the nation’s capitol provided. While I eventually spent almost six years working downtown, at the Atlantic Council, I never lived in DC proper. Initially, it made no sense to live in an expensive, congested city and commute to the suburbs for work. And by the time I started working downtown, my late first wife and I were settled into a new home close to her office and within reasonable driving time to mine.

If, however, I were a 73-year-old United States Senator, I would live in DC in a heartbeat. The poor public schools aren’t a consideration at that point in your life. It’s still expensive, of course, but Senators make a nice salary and Manchin has a nice income from his Enersystems stake on top of that. And even the notorious DC traffic isn’t much of an issue if you have a driver.

Now, I can certainly understand a preference for being the chief executive of a state, much less one where the family has lived for generations, over being one of a hundred senators. But a disdain for the seat of government is an odd pose for someone who has run for re-election to the Senate twice. He could certainly afford to retire.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, US Senate
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Is it a country-boy affectation? “You won’r catch me livin’ in no city!”

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: Could well be. He’s an educated, wealthy man. I can understand a preference for wide open spaces. But it seems bizarre that he wouldn’t be able to appreciate what a major city has to offer as well.

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  3. KM says:

    Oh trust me, he likes living in DC just fine. There’s nowhere else he has access to the kind of power and privilege that are currently going to his head. Who’s gonna be kowtowing and asskissing like this back in WV, even if he’s makes governor again? Manchin’s never EVER going to enjoy the level of power he has right now again and it’s all thanks to DC. I do think he prefers his home state but a part of him will be sorely missing this once he has to run home.

    This is all kabuki to maintain his kingmaker image and red meat for the voters back home. No, he hasn’t gonna native – he won’t even live on their soil!

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Performative BS. Living on a houseboat is an intriguing lifestyle choice that we’ve considered, but never pursued due to our choice to live in regions with 4 seasons, one of which can be brutal. The rubbish about DC reminds me of multiple loud mouth, wealthy suburbanites who never miss the chance to complain about the city and how it is run. To the point of complaining about the local public transit system, that they opposed, and how it is not as nice as the Paris Metro.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    But a disdain for the seat of government is an odd pose for someone who has run for re-election to the Senate twice. He could certainly afford to retire.

    Pose indeed. A very clever way to live in the DC metro while pretending not to.
    @KM: Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see where he eventually retires. Why do I suspect that boat (60+ ft, $700,000) is headed south, not west, when he stops running for reelection.

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  6. DeD says:

    @gVOR08:

    Why do I suspect that boat (60+ ft, $700,000) is headed south, not west, when he stops running for reelection.

    Cuz you know b.s. when you smell it, that’s why.

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  7. just nutha says:

    @gVOR08: From what I could see on the map, he’d have to trailer the boat into WV. I’m not sure that’s a practical goal for a 60 foot boat–even if there’s someplace to sail/motor it once he gets there. The Potomac flows through WV, but there don’t appear to be port districts on that side of the state. But if the Potomac branches off the Ohio and is navigable all that way, I guess it would work. Still, doesn’t seem likely he’ll go west.

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  8. Northerner says:

    Some people prefer living in cities, some in rural areas, some in the wilderness. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong or even strange about that, any more than its strange that different people enjoy different foods or different movies or different books or different activities.

    In terms of houseboats, I know several west coast people who’ve lived in one for decades despite having far more than enough to buy a good sized house along the shore. They say there’s something very different about living on a boat, and for a few people that’s the life they want.

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  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Northerner:

    Some people prefer living in cities, some in rural areas, some in the wilderness. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong or even strange about that, any more than its strange that different people enjoy different foods or different movies or different books or different activities.

    Absolutely true, but most folks don’t complain about alternative places to live. It may puzzle them, why someone would choose a particular living environment, but they wouldn’t judge it or criticize it to justify their choice.

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  10. Beth says:

    And he we have it folks, actual virtue signaling.

    “No, No, No, everybody, I’m just like you! See, I live on a boat! I’m one of the “Real Americans” cause I like my beer cheap and my pizza made out of cardboard.”

    Don’t pay attention to the fact that he’s a powerful millionaire or that his boat is probably nicer that many people’s homes (and probably more expensive). I could be wrong though, I couldn’t find many 60ft houseboats that were built after 2000 for sale (I didn’t try very hard though.)

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  11. JohnMcC says:

    Interesting trivia: Washington DC is located where it is because that was as far a sea-going sailing ships could make it up the Potomac. They got that far by anchoring during the outgoing tide and then riding the incoming.

    There is a branch of the US Coasties that ‘documents’ yachts. When you’re interested in cruising foreign ports in your boat, it’s very useful since many nations don’t recognize the state registration that’s common here. That branch is located in West Virginia. Yes, WV is completely landlocked.

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  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Amusing that a guy who lives on a boat doesn’t think people are worthy of a minimum living wage.
    I’ll bet that, with slip fees, utilities, and haul-outs for maintenance (ignoring the actual maintenance), he pays more than a minimum wage employee makes in a year.

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  13. Mister Bluster says:

    Is it a country-boy affectation? “You won’r catch me livin’ in no city!”

    As I traveled the Fruited Plain over 35 years climbing telephone poles to earn a living I worked the great urban centers like Houston, Los Angeles and Chicago. I also frequented places so remote that “you couldn’t get there from here”. Like Castle Rock Road in Kansas or Clarence, Missouri or rural Pope Counrty, Illinois. Every now and then a native of the area where I was working would ask which I liked better the Big City or the small town. My reply was always: “I like them both.”
    Often the response was surprise. “How can you stand the rubes in the country?” Or “Aren’t those city dwellers rude and obnoxious?”
    People would actually get mad at me for expressing anything positive about the turf on the other side of the tracks.
    One of the advantages of traveling for work was that every job was temporary and as I said to myself many times, I won’t have to be here forever.

    The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

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  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    BTW…the article above says it is a 40 foot boat…Politifact has it at 65 feet. Neither is a particularly large boat. 40 foot and above is the minimum standard for a “yacht” which is probably where the confusion comes from. Also – based on screen shots I saw…it’s a particularly fugly boat. Which makes sense.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    He takes political friends and foes on evening cruises along the Potomac River, serving pizza and beer, and his boat has been dubbed the “flagship of the centrist Navy”.

    Pizza you say… does this boat have a basement?

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Beth: @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Apparently, he got a bargain on it at $220,000 when he bought it but it’s insured for $700,000. A pretty modest home price in the DC area but it’s certainly a yacht by any definition.

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Beth:

    I couldn’t find many 60ft houseboats that were built after 2000 for sale (I didn’t try very hard though.)

    The articles I found said he insures it for 700K$, but bought it for 200K. One might wonder if that sale was entirely on the up and up.

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  18. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: ETA (after failing to actuate the Edit function) sorry, replied to Beth and didn’t see @James Joyner:

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  19. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    One might wonder if that sale was entirely on the up and up.

    I don’t want to make accusations without evidence but the thought certainly occurred to me.

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  20. just nutha says:

    Based on the picture that I saw online when I looked it up, it’s definitely configured as a live-aboard, but I don’t think I would call it a “houseboat” per se. On the other hand, in Seattle, they’re usually called “floating homes” and tend not to be navigable. This one’s clearly a boat first.

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  21. inhumans99 says:

    I like to think that property is sometime insured for more than it appraised for, also, if the Houseboat is in good shape it could have gone up in value, yes? I had an ex-boss who owned a houseboat (actually, I believe his wife owned the boat) and from the handful of pics I was shown it seemed pretty sweet. Granted, a floating house is property that does not go up in value like a home in San Francisco but real estate/owning a home/buying land, if bought originally at a fair price seems like something that could give you a decent roi.

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  22. Mr Manchin calls himself a “West Virginia Democrat not a Washington Democrat” and frequently declares that “my worst day as West Virginia governor was better than my best day as a Washington senator”.

    This just feels disingenuous. If you don’t like the job, then why keep seeking it?

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: A lot of people are trapped in jobs they don’t like, Dr. Taylor. Perhaps if you weren’t up in your ivory tower, you would would see that…

    No one wants to work at McDonalds, but people apply. Desperate people, mostly. I imagine it is much the same for Manchin.

    The Senate has health insurance, which a lot of jobs don’t have these days, and it’s pretty good health insurance. That might be it right there.

    He’s a man of the people, living in a yacht off the coast of America.

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  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    a disdain for the seat of government is an odd pose for someone who has run for re-election to the Senate twice.

    I’m sure somebody else has pointed this out already but I don’t have time to read all the comments, so let me be the 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th, or… Yeah you get my drift… That person who first noted the fact that we have an entire political party for whom disdain for the seat of government is a prerequisite of being a member.

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  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    The guy spent the better part of his life calling a tiny little town of 375 people in the MOFN, WV home. Isn’t it possible that we’re layering our own issues onto this, and the guy just doesn’t care for cities?

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  26. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    That person who first noted the fact that we have an entire political party for whom disdain for the seat of government is a prerequisite of being a member.

    It seems to be a commonplace in world political history that voters don’t like the government. Particularly when economics aren’t improving for average voters, e.g. the U. S. since the 70s. Republicans have largely been the government since the 70s. You almost have to admire the skill and chutzpah involved in successfully running against the government while being the government.

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  27. Northerner says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Actually in my experience, criticizing where other people live (for a wide variety of reasons) is a common past-time. This is especially true for sports rivalries between cities, but goes well beyond that. Some of it is regional, some of it is pure snobbery (ie living in a “world class city” vs living in an industrial town.

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  28. Northerner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    My dream job is playing defense in the NHL. That didn’t pan out, so I’m sticking with my current job. However, if some team were to offer me a try-out (I have a much better chance of winning the lottery) I’d drop everything and go for it. Most of us aren’t working at our dream job.

    I wonder if people are reading politics into something that’s simply a personal choice — as I said, some people (of all political stripes) simply prefer living on a boat. Not my thing, but there’s a long history of it. For them its like the t-shirt says: Time spent on a boat isn’t deducted from your life.”

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