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West Virginia’s hopes are boosted by Manchin, a crucial Senate swing vote.

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West Virginia's hopes are boosted by Manchin, a crucial Senate swing vote.

 

West Virginia has long been known as “Almost Heaven,” a reference to a song and the state’s sweeping mountaintop views. As Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin negotiates his way through Congress, some jokes about the state mentioned in “Take Me Home, Country Roads” might get a little more serious.

Nick Casey, a longtime Democratic Party official, said, “Maybe we’ll get to heaven status.”

It will be a tall challenge to revive West Virginia’s economically devastated coal towns and reverse the state’s long-term population decline. In a divided Senate, however, Manchin, who grew up in the mountain town of Farmington, has emerged as a crucial swing vote. He now has his best chance in years to get federal funds back to the United States.

Manchin waded back into the fray this week over the COVID relief bill in Congress, single-handedly blocking work on the bill on Friday as Democrats tried to appease his fears about the scale and length of an extended unemployment benefit.

In terms of his own agenda, Manchin has made public comments about “common sense” infrastructure improvements that are desperately needed in his home state, such as improving rural broadband and repairing roads. West Virginia, he said, could provide the manufacturing muscle needed to “innovate our way to a healthier world.” He’s also said that if given the chance, coal miners will make the best solar panels.

Some speculate that his renewed clout would allow him to do something that former President Donald Trump promised but couldn’t deliver: re-ignite a state economy that has long been overly reliant on a collapsing coal industry.

Senators from Manchin’s state have good reason to study the needs of small towns outside the Blue Ridge Mountains. Manchin, 73, was always a well-known dealmaker on Capitol Hill, but in a 50-50 Senate, deference to the most conservative Democrat has increased since November. He was recently referred to as “your highness” by a senator from Hawaii. The game of guessing which way he’ll vote has become late-night television fodder.

Manchin’s opposition has recently aided the demise of Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s choice to head the federal Office of Management and Budget.

A senator from West Virginia hasn’t wielded this much power since Robert Byrd died in 2010. Over the course of a half-century, Byrd amassed a fortune in federal buildings, landmarks, and highways, many of which bear his name.

Casey, an attorney and former chair of the state Democratic Party, said, “This is hardscrabble land, man — our population is dropping, the death of coal.” “We now have a man who will be able to leave a legacy. And I believe there is a lot of hope and anticipation that Joe will accomplish something important and exceptional.”

Pam Garrison, a former cashier, told Manchin at a meeting advocating for a $15 federal minimum wage that Byrd has colleges and hospitals named after him because “when he came into power, he used that power for the people.”

“If you do what is right for the people, you will be remembered long after you are gone.”

Manchin, on the other hand, sees himself as an advocate for policies that benefit Appalachia and the Rust Belt, rather than a seeker of pork-barrel ventures.

“What we have to do now, and I believe it is appropriate,” he said, “is show the need and that the base has been abandoned.”

He began down that path by joining Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in co-sponsoring a bill that would provide $8 billion in tax credits to coal communities and the auto industry to promote renewable energy manufacturing.

Manchin will use his place in a 50-50 Senate, according to Robert Rupp, a political history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, to bring his small state to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“He’s in the spotlight, and he has the ability to claim power,” Rupp said.

Manchin, a former governor, has deep ties to West Virginia politics. That explains why he is the last Democrat to hold a statewide office in a state Trump won by massive margins both times.

Manchin exudes a sense of unpredictability. Even after demonstrators gathered outside his state office in Charleston, he rejected a $15 minimum wage clause in the $1.9 billion pandemic stimulus package, leading others to doubt his potential legacy.

“We’re either going to smell like a rose in West Virginia, or we’re going to smell like crap, and Joseph Manchin will be blamed,” said Jean Evansmore, 80, a West Virginia organizer with the Poor People’s Campaign.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled a few days later that an increase could not be included in the COVID-19 relief bill. That was a victory for Manchin and his respect for Senate traditions, such as the filibuster, which helps maintain a 60-vote threshold for most bills.

Manchin has stated that he would never accept the repeal of the filibuster.

Anti-abortion activists rallied outside the golden-domed state Capitol in Charleston on a recent morning, holding signs that read, “Thank you Senator Manchin.”

Marilyn Musgrave, an anti-abortion activist with the Susan B. Anthony List, said, “We need to inspire him to stand firm.”

After lobbying against Manchin’s offer for a second full term in 2018, which he secured with just under 50% of the vote, Musgrave’s party is now looking to him. Manchin opposes federal funding for abortions but does not advocate for a complete ban. Despite this, he consistently receives a low rating from abortion-rights organizations, putting him in line with West Virginians who have sent mixed signals on abortion.

Manchin has been the target of reports that he’ll switch parties because of his centrist instincts in such a red state.

“Republicans have this fantasy that just because he’s conservative on certain topics, he’ll switch parties,” Rupp said.

He believes that is impossible, particularly given Manchin’s newfound power. And that’s great with Matt Kerner, a 54-year-old West Virginian who wants Manchin to remember that 16 percent of his state’s residents live in poverty, the nation’s sixth-highest rate, according to the U.S. Census.

Kerner said, “We’re hoping Senator Manchin remembers that he serves some of America’s poorest citizens.”

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Denver weather: Another round of snow coming Thursday

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Denver weather: Another round of snow coming Thursday

Denver is still a winter wonderland Wednesday morning, with most of the snow from Tuesday’s storm still on the ground after a brutally cold night. Temperatures dipped to 11 degrees overnight, and the snow that’s already fallen should be joined on Thursday by some new flakes.

According to the National Weather Service in Boulder, Denver will top out at 42 degrees on Wednesday. The clear day and evening will have a low of 19 degrees. Fog is possible Wednesday morning in low-lying areas across the plains.

On Thursday, a storm system will move in Colorado, bringing light snow to the metro area, foothills and northern mountains. The snow is expected to fall later in the morning and into the early afternoon as the temperature reaches 31 degrees.

There’s a 70% chance of precipitation p to three downtown with up to three inches of snow possible. The foothills could get up to five inches, and winds could gust near 20 mph. Temperatures will again plummet Thursday night, with a low of 12 degrees in Denver, but some suburbs could see lows near zero.

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Russia threatens retaliation if Ukraine demands not met

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Russia threatens retaliation if Ukraine demands not met

MOSCOW — Russia warned Wednesday it would quickly take “retaliatory measures” if the U.S. and its allies reject its security demands over NATO and Ukraine, raising pressure on the West amid concerns that Moscow is planning to invade its neighbor.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it has any such designs, but the U.S. and its NATO allies are worried about Russia deploying an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine and launching a series of sweeping military maneuvers.

As part of the drills, motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia practiced firing live ammunition, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea performed bombing runs, and dozens of warships sailed for training exercises in the Black Sea and the Arctic.

At stake is the future of Ukraine: Russia has demanded guarantees that NATO will never admit the country and other ex-Soviet nations as members and that the alliance will roll back troop deployments in other former Soviet bloc nations. Some of these, like the membership pledge, are nonstarters for NATO, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.

Speaking to lawmakers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he and other top officials will advise President Vladimir Putin on the next steps after receiving written replies from the United States to the demands. Those answers are expected this week — even though the U.S. and its allies have already made clear they will reject Russia’s top demands.

“If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures,” Lavrov said.

But he indicated Russia wouldn’t wait forever. “We won’t allow our proposals to be drowned in endless discussions,” he said.

He mocked fears of an imminent invasion, saying that “our Western colleagues have driven themselves up into a militarist frenzy,” adding sardonically that “the Ukrainian elite itself has grown a bit scared by the Western scare.”

Asked by lawmakers if Russia could expand military cooperation with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as part of its retaliatory measures, Lavrov responded merely that Moscow has close ties with those countries in the Western Hemisphere and is seeking to deepen them.

Earlier this month, Lavrov’s deputy pointedly refused to rule out the deployment of Russian military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if Moscow’s security demands aren’t met.

NATO said this week it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region and the U.S. ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe. Western nations have also sent planeloads of weapons to help Ukraine strengthen its defenses.

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Coast Guard searches vast sea for 39 people lost off Florida

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Coast Guard searches vast sea for 39 people lost off Florida

MIAMI — The Coast Guard searched in the dark early Wednesday for 39 migrants after a solitary survivor was found clinging to the overturned hull of a boat that capsized off the Florida coast during a suspected smuggling attempt.

Crews on at least four ships and five aircraft already scanned a vast area about the size of Rhode Island on Tuesday after the man was pulled to safety.

The man told a good Samaritan who rescued him that he was part of a group of 40 people who left the island of Bimini in the Bahamas on Saturday night in what the maritime security agency suspects was a human smuggling operation. He said none wore life jackets as they capsized in severe weather.

The Coast Guard said a small craft advisory had been issued as a severe cold front blew through the dangerous passage on Saturday and Sunday, with winds up to 23 mph (37 kph) and swells up to 9 feet (3 meters) high. Tommy Sewell, a local bonefishing guide, said there were high winds and fierce squalls of rain on Sunday into Monday.

The survivor was brought to a hospital for symptoms of dehydration and sun exposure after he was found early Tuesday sitting on the hull 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Fort Pierce, the agency reported. The Coast Guard did not immediately describe the nationality of the survivor or the people lost at sea.

Migrants have long used the islands of the Bahamas as a steppingstone to reach Florida and the United States. They typically try to take advantage of breaks in the weather to make the crossing, but the vessels are often dangerously overloaded and prone to capsizing. There have been thousands of deaths over the years.

For the most part, these migrants are from Haiti and Cuba, but the Royal Bahamas Defense Force has reported apprehending migrants from other parts of the world, including from Colombia and Ecuador earlier this month.

The Coast Guard constantly patrols the waters around Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas. On Friday, its crews pulled 88 Haitians from an overloaded sail freighter west of Great Inagua, Bahamas.

“Navigating the Florida straits, Windward and Mona Passages … is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life,” the Coast Guard said last weekend.

Last July, the Coast Guard rescued 13 people after their boat capsized off of Key West as Tropical Storm Elsa approached.

The survivors said they had left Cuba with 22 people aboard. Nine went missing in the water.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Washington contributed to this report.

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