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US Sen. Joe Manchin says he'll stay away from party lines

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BEECH BOTTOM, WV -

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said recently he'll continue to vote his conscience, not party lines, even though it's put him at odds with party leaders as well as key supporters.

"I'm realistic," the former West Virginia Governor said during a swing through the Northern Panhandle Nov. 8. "Politics will trump everything, they'll jeopardize the well-being of our country and it's a shame. But I'm hoping enough people come to the middle and put America first and their politics second. If we can get enough people to do that, we can make a big difference."

Manchin strayed from the party line in September when he said he'd support a stopgap federal spending plan that delayed implementation of the individual mandate in the new health care law, though he tempered those comments later when he said the individual mandate shouldn't be used to shut down government. He also ran afoul of the powerful gun lobby when he advocated expanded background checks for gun buyers.

"I work with everybody, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, and I respect everybody's position and thought process, philosophically where they come from," he said. "Once you have respect for each other you can find common ground, but if you start out without any respect it degrades from there, it goes down hill."

He decried the partisan politics choking Washington, saying answers will come when America "hits the wall."

"We're going to hit very difficult challenges we should never hit and people are going to suffer, they're going to say ‘enough's enough, we're not going to take it anymore' and they shouldn't. I keep telling people, look for (leaders) willing to work together, to put their country and their state before their politics. If you find someone entrenched in partisanship, I guarantee you they're not going to be productive."

Manchin said the new health care law isn't perfect, "but I've never seen anything come out of the box and be the right thing." He said he's willing "to work to make it better."

"I'm the first to say some things have got to go," he said. "I've always been against the mandate that says ‘do this or you'll be fined.' We're seeing pushback on that so I say delay it. Delay the fine and the penalty, but keep working on it ... don't make people buy something that's not as good as what they have, don't fine them for something they can't buy. Take some time to work on it. There's good things in it – pre-existing conditions are covered, the caps, children with disabilities. All of those are things Democrats and Republicans agree on."

And he still thinks expanding background checks for gun buyers is the right thing to do, even though it's put him in the crosshairs of the gun lobby.

"I'm taking heat from everybody," he concedes, "but the bottom line is we have to do the common sense thing. I'm a lifetime member of the NRA, I'm going to keep my guns – nobody is going to take my guns or your guns, and I don't have a problem when a commercial establishment does a background check.

"People I know who are law-abiding gun owners don't have a problem with it, either. So you're hearing from the extremes, and I understand that. But you can't be afraid to do something."