White House lights into Manchin after he crushes Biden’s megabill

December 21, 2021

Senator Joe Manchin struck a decisive blow to President Joe Biden’s sweeping social and climate spending bill on Sunday, December 19—igniting a bitter clash with his own party’s White House, reports Politico.

Biden left negotiations with Manchin this week thinking the two men could cut a deal next year on his sweeping agenda. Then the West Virginia Democrat bluntly said he is a “no” on the $1.7 trillion in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

“If I can’t go home and explain to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said. “This is a no on this piece of legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.”

Those comments prompted an immediate war with the White House, which took personal aim at Manchin for what officials saw as a breach of trust.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released an unusually blunt statement saying that Manchin’s comments “are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.”

In announcing his opposition, Manchin raised the same concerns about the bill that he’s had all along: inflation, rising debt, and a mismatch between the package’s ten-year funding and its shorter-term programs, Politico noted. But until Sunday, Manchin had never taken a hard line on the legislation. In the past week, he’s spoken directly to Biden several times, with the president and other Democrats furiously lobbying him to support the bill.

With an evenly split Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) needs every Democrat to go along with the legislation, which only requires a simple majority vote. That dynamic gives Manchin enormous leverage over Biden’s agenda—allowing him to single-handedly sink a priority that Democrats have spent much of the year working on, Politico says.

Manchin’s rollout on Fox News infuriated Democrats Sunday morning. Psaki said that the senator had brought Biden an outline of a bill similar in size and scope that “could lead to a compromise acceptable to all.”

“If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the president and the senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate,” Psaki said. “Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.”

And while the centrist senator’s staff informed White House and Democratic aides about his forthcoming blow to Biden’s agenda, some Democrats were steamed that Manchin himself hadn’t called Biden or Schumer.

“Manchin didn’t have the courage to call the White House or Democratic leadership himself ahead of time,” fumed one Democrat familiar with internal conversations.

While tempers flared on Sunday, the White House began privately and hastily exploring ways to keep the legislative initiative alive. A White House official told Politico that he believes there are critical elements of the social spending bill that must get done. They plan to continue talking with Manchin and to urge him to honor his previous commitments.

The official added that now may be an opportunity to revisit a concept of the bill that included fewer programs but was paid for over more years — an option that moderate House Democrats and party leaders such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) had pushed for previously.

Centrist New Democrat Coalition Chair Representative Suzan DelBene (D-Washington) said in a statement Sunday that including fewer programs in the legislation but for longer durations “could open a potential path forward for this legislation.”

Research contact: @politico