Curtis Tate Published

Capito Will Rise To Senior Senator. What Does That Mean For W.Va.?

A blonde woman sits next to a dark-haired man. Both are wearing red jackets and they are seated in a white tent on a stage.
Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin of West Virginia
Curtis Tate/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito will become West Virginia’s senior senator next year. What does that mean for the state’s clout in Washington?

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election. When he leaves the chamber next January, that elevates Capito’s seniority.

Capito is a member of the Senate Republican leadership, and she is the senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Both serve on the Appropriations Committee, which gives West Virginia an unusual amount of say over federal spending. Manchin, though, is a committee chairman of Energy and Natural Resources. His departure could diminish the state’s influence.

Unless Republicans wrest control of the Senate after November, which would make Capito chair of the environment committee. That committee authorizes road and bridge projects, as well as water and wastewater infrastructure. Capito took a lead role in what became the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which has brought billions of dollars in funding to the Mountain State. Manchin had a hand in it as well.

West Virginia has a long history of senators leveraging their seniority, up to and including Manchin and Capito. Capito says she’ll continue to leverage hers.

“Well, I will be the senior senator after this next election,” she said. “And that means that my clout is more powerful, and my voice will be more powerful.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Thursday he’d be stepping down as Republican leader in November. McConnell said he’d complete his term. Still, Political observers in Kentucky say that will diminish the influence the state has long enjoyed.

It’s similar to West Virginia’s longtime Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Byrd served in various leadership positions, including majority leader, and he spent more than 50 years in the chamber, using his influence on the state’s behalf. After Byrd’s death in 2010, Manchin took his place.

Capito took the place of Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 2015. By the time he retired, Rockefeller had been in the Senate for 30 years and was chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.