Manchin Assails Efforts to Press Him on Biden’s Domestic Policy Bill – The New York Times

Manchin Assails Efforts to Press Him on Biden’s Domestic Policy Bill

Senator Joe Manchin III criticized the White House staff for its handling of negotiations over the legislation, saying officials had pushed him to his “wit’s end.”

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said over six months of negotiations, the White House failed to adequately respond to his concerns and sufficiently cut down the scope and size of the measure.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A day after announcing that he would not support his party’s signature domestic policy legislation, Senator Joe Manchin III, the centrist Democrat from West Virginia, offered an unsparing critique of the efforts by the Biden administration and senior Democrats on Capitol Hill to pass the sprawling $2.2 trillion climate, spending and tax bill.

In a 14-minute interview with a local West Virginia radio station, Mr. Manchin directly faulted White House staff and top Democrats for what Mr. Manchin described as a misplaced assumption that he could be pressured into accepting such a large package. He said that over six months of negotiations, they failed to adequately respond to his concerns and sufficiently cut down the scope and size of the measure.

While he refrained from directly criticizing President Biden, he had harsh words for members of the president’s staff, who he charged “put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable.” Pressed further, he refused to specify what infuriated him, beyond that it had pushed him to “the wit’s end” and he believed it had been driven by White House staff members.

He ticked off a list of unaddressed concerns with the measure, including the lack of guardrails on new spending and its possible effect on inflation. And he said that he had only agreed to take up the bill in hopes of rolling back parts of the 2017 Republican tax cuts, an effort that faltered amid opposition from another key centrist, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

“I knew where they were and I knew what they could and could not do — they just never realized it because they figured, surely to God we can move one person,” Mr. Manchin said. “Surely we can badger and beat one person up, surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they’ll just say, ‘OK, I’ll vote for anything, just quit.’”

Mr. Manchin continued: “Well, guess what, I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive. Period.”

Before his split with the White House, Mr. Manchin gave Mr. Biden an outline last week of a scaled-back proposal that would have included some components of the version passed by the House, people familiar with the proposal said, including new money to combat climate change, expand access to health care and move toward universal pre-K.

But Mr. Manchin’s plan would also have excised one large element: an extension of an expanded version of the child tax credit, a policy at the heart of the administration’s agenda. Details of Mr. Manchin’s proposal were reported on Monday by the Washington Post.

At the White House, Mr. Biden and his aides scrambled to find a way to move forward.

For Mr. Biden, the stakes are enormous. Just last Thursday, Mr. Biden expressed optimism that he would find a path to compromise with Mr. Manchin.

“I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan,” he said.

But much of the president’s optimism has been built on Mr. Biden’s belief in the kind of good-faith negotiations that he built his career on during 37 years in the Senate. One of his favorite lines is to declare that people can trust him because he’s given his “word as a Biden” to follow through.

His expectation, according to people familiar with his thinking, was that Mr. Manchin, whom he considers a friend, would adhere to the old rules of that chamber, working toward a solution even if they disagreed about the details.

But the West Virginia senator’s declaration on Sunday that he was done negotiating appears to have shattered the president’s belief that Mr. Manchin was negotiating in good faith. The subsequent statement on Sunday from Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary — which Mr. Biden personally approved — says as much.

“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,” Ms. Psaki wrote.

The tone of Ms. Psaki’s statement underscored that Mr. Biden had reached his breaking point, just as Mr. Manchin had reached his.

It remains unclear what effort the White House might make the re-engage with Mr. Manchin or whether he would be willing to come back to the negotiating table with further concessions from the administration.

But, taken at face value, his statements on Monday suggested that compromise could be unattainable without a serious overhaul and further concessions from liberal Democrats.

“It was never going to change — it never could change with that many people,” Mr. Manchin said. He added, referring to his party’s leaders, that “you all are approaching legislation as if you have 55 or 60 senators that are Democrats, and you can do whatever you want.”

Before Mr. Manchin’s public break with the White House, officials familiar with the negotiations said, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Biden remained at odds over a centerpiece of the plan: a one-year extension of an expanded monthly payment to most families with children, which is set to lapse at the end of the year.

Mr. Manchin was visibly irritated when pressed by reporters last week about whether he wanted to outright jettison the expansion, which he voted for as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan in March. Mr. Biden also issued a statement on Thursday where he would slip past a Christmas deadline sought by party leaders, and directly named Mr. Manchin as a reason agreement on the legislation remained elusive.

Mr. Manchin’s remarks on Monday came just hours after Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, vowed in a letter to his Senate colleagues to press forward with votes on a revised version of the plan. If Mr. Schumer follows through on his plan, it would force Mr. Manchin to cast a vote against the legislation, which passed the House last month.

Mr. Schumer acknowledged “moments of deep discontent and frustration” that Mr. Manchin and Mr. Biden had not bridged their differences over the package to fulfill a Christmas deadline Mr. Schumer tried to impose.

“Neither that delay, nor other recent pronouncements, will deter us from continuing to try to find a way forward,” Mr. Schumer wrote. “We simply cannot give up.”

Votes on the plan would most likely come in early 2022, Mr. Schumer pointedly noted in a letter to his colleagues, “so that every member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.”

Mr. Manchin said he had no issue with forcing a vote on the plan on the Senate floor, referencing a similar demand issued by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, on Sunday. He added that he had refused to guarantee his vote upfront, which had further frustrated his colleagues, who have spent weeks badgering him to change his mind.

“I said, ‘Bernie please put it on the floor,’” he recounted in the interview. “Maybe it’ll sink in that we have to look at a different direction in this far-reaching social agenda of yours.”

Much of the plan, originally envisioned as spending as much as $6 trillion to reshape nearly every facet of American life, had already been substantially scaled back by Mr. Manchin’s fiscal concerns and allegiance to his coal-producing state. Multiple climate provisions, including a key clean electricity program, were removed because of his objections, and a paid family and medical leave program was expected to follow suit.

But he again accused Democrats of doing little to address his concerns, beyond shortening the duration of several programs and using budgetary sleights of hand. In July, he had signed a memo with Mr. Schumer outlining his conditions for support, including directing revenue over a $1.5 trillion price tag toward reducing the deficit.

The same bill I have in front of me right now that they kept putting in front of me, was the same $6 trillion bill from the beginning,” Mr. Manchin complained.

Several Democrats across Capitol Hill, while frustrated and dismayed by Mr. Manchin’s comments, vowed to continue searching to develop a plan that could secure his vote.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California sounded an optimistic note, telling reporters at an event in San Francisco on Monday that “we will not let this opportunity pass.”

“I have confidence that Senator Manchin cares about our country, and that at some point, very soon, we can take up the legislation,” she added. “I’m not deterred at all.”

Representative Jamal Bowman, Democrat of New York, said that he and other progressives were discussing how they would move forward, adding “I think we need to reset, you know, and the New Year provides the opportunity for reset and reflection and truth telling.”

Senate Democrats are set to convene a caucus meeting on Tuesday to discuss the path forward. Asked if he would consider switching parties given the public tensions, Mr. Manchin suggested that he would prefer a Democrat.

“I would like to hope that there’s still Democrats that feel like I do — I’m socially and fiscally responsible and socially compassionate,” Mr. Manchin said. “Now if there’s no Democrats like that, then they’ll have to push me wherever they want me.”

Catie Edmondson and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

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