The odds that Democrats will succeed in passing a large economic rescue package received a boost this week from an unexpected source: Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, a Republican. Mr. Justice said on Monday, in back-to-back interviews with CNN and MSNBC, that Congress should “go big” and not worry about the federal deficit.
Or, as the governor put it in his signature folksy style: “We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move.” (Rough translation: Stop nit-picking about details and pass a bill.)
Indirectly, Mr. Justice’s comments contained a sharp rebuke of Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat, who had been conferring with G.O.P. colleagues about a smaller relief package that would send checks to fewer Americans and cost the government less.
Perhaps because of Mr. Justice’s prodding, Mr. Manchin, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, agreed on Tuesday to vote with his party to advance President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package using budget reconciliation, a process that would allow a bill to ultimately pass by a simple majority. Mr. Manchin said on Wednesday that the $1.9 trillion price tag would be acceptable if the bill had some bipartisan input.
West Virginia has also been in the national news for its success in rolling out the coronavirus vaccines. It leads all states in the percent of the population, 4 percent, that has received both shots.
In an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Mr. Justice, the scion of a coal family and reportedly the richest man in West Virginia, discussed the stimulus, vaccines, his loyalty to Donald J. Trump and whether he might challenge Mr. Manchin in 2024. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Speaking about the stimulus package in Congress, you’ve said, “If we throw away some money right now, so what?” That doesn’t sound very Republican.
We absolutely need to quit thinking first and foremost, “What is the right Republican or right Democrat thing to do?” I have been a business guy all my life, and I know that when you have a real problem, you can’t cut your way out of the problem. Too often we try to skinny everything down and not fund it properly.
If we ended up wasting a few dollars and it jump-started the economy, and it helped all those that were out there, as many as we can that are really hurting, would we not be one heck of a lot better off than trying to just match the shoe size to the foot and undersizing the shoe size to where you couldn’t even walk?
I would a whole lot rather give somebody a pair of shoes that was a little too big than a pair of shoes that was too small to put on their feet.
Have you spoken to Senator Manchin to get him to see your point of view?
I have not. Everybody pretty well knows what my views have been. I have expressed the need for this nation to go bold and go big.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia’s Republican senator, was part of a G.O.P. group that met with President Biden to talk about a much smaller stimulus plan, offering $1,000 checks instead of $1,400 checks. What do you think of that position?
I just keep going back to the exact same thing, and it’s this: At the end of the day, if we overdo it a little bit, a downside risk is minimal. If we underdo it, the downside risk is enormous.
You are term-limited as governor. Are you thinking about running in 2024 for the Senate?
No, I’m really not. My makeup is not to be one of 100 and trying to go through a decision process and everything. You know, I’m a C.E.O. If I can continue to do good stuff for West Virginia, I’m going to do it, and then probably fade off into the sunset.
About 11 percent of all West Virginians have received the first dose of the vaccine, higher than any state except Alaska. West Virginia said a few days ago that it had become the first state to complete the second round of vaccinations to all residents of nursing homes. What advice do you have for other governors?
What we’ve done in West Virginia is we recruited and brought in everybody. We brought in our local pharmacies, our local clinics and we put our National Guard to work. I said we are not going to have our vaccines on the shelf, we’re going to get them out to the people.
This is absolute gospel fact: Last week we had in people’s arms 108.1 percent [leveraging extra doses from vials] of the vaccines we have received — our first-round doses. And 70 percent of our second-round doses. And we’ve done that week after week after week. The last three or four weeks, every dose that comes into West Virginia is in somebody’s arm by nightfall on the following Sunday.
We’re the third-oldest state, with the most chronic illnesses. We could do the same thing in any state in the country if people would run the play that we’ve developed here, because it’s a real play and it’s working.
A Republican member of the state Legislature, Derrick Evans, was charged after storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. He resigned his seat. Did Donald Trump incite an insurrection?
I really don’t think so. I think the impeachment stuff that’s going on is a shame.
You know, I think really and truly we need to be respectful of all the good things that the Trump administration did. Surely there was times when, you know, Donald was boisterous in his comments, but that’s just the way Donald Trump is. That’s just his personality.
I know the Trump family. I know them very well. There’s no chance on God’s earth that they would have condoned anything that happened with the rushing of our nation’s Capitol.
Under the Trump administration, coal production remained steady but low. In 2019, production was the lowest since 1978 and the U.S. got more energy from renewables than from coal. How do you rate Trump’s campaign promise, especially in West Virginia, to bring back coal?
I’m a real believer that we should embrace alternative energy. You know, in the last probably two weeks, I welcomed a windmill business with a $200 million investment to West Virginia.
But at the same time, it is frivolous for us to think that today our nation can go forward without coal or without gas. There will be a day we transition away from fossil fuels. But I frankly don’t believe that it is now. And I don’t believe that it is in the foreseeable decades. It is foreseeable in decades. But it is not foreseeable in the immediate future, for sure.
President Biden rejoined the Paris climate accord and will eventually move to reinstate Obama-era regulations on vehicles and power plants. On top of that, G.M. announced that it would phase out all gas-powered cars by 2035. Is there a way that West Virginia can support any part of the administration’s climate agenda?
The great part about West Virginia is, today the percentage of our revenue from the severance tax on coal and gas is the lowest that it’s been in the last 25 years, and yet West Virginia is doing very well. Because we have diversified in so many different directions.
You know, tourism is exploding. High tech is exploding. Some manufacturing. Higher ed. Virgin Hyperloop’s on the way to West Virginia. There’s a lot of really exciting things that are happening in West Virginia.
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