Biden's unending dilemma: Dealing with Joe Manchin

President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion The Fed has a clear mandate to mitigate climate risks Biden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' MORE has faced a dilemma through much of this first year of his presidency: He needs Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinArizona Democratic Party executive board censures Sinema Biden seeks to save what he can from Build Back Better On The Money — Labor chief touts efforts to promote job growth MORE’s (D-W.Va.) vote to do anything in the Senate.

That political reality, which spins out of the 50-50 Senate evenly divided between the parties, became a real political crisis for the White House on Sunday after Manchin said he would not back Biden’s top political priority, the Build Back Better climate and social spending legislation.

Manchin’s decision, delivered on Fox News, appeared to catch the White House by surprise and led to strong pushback from press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOn student loans, Biden doesn't have an answer yet Part of US military support package arrives in Ukraine Biden seeks to save what he can from Build Back Better MORE, who said the West Virginia Democrat had breached his commitments to the president.


“Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” she said.

Psaki added that Manchin “weeks ago” had come to Biden’s home in Wilmington, Del., to offer support for the Build Back Better framework announced by the president and said that last week Manchin had personally submitted a written outline to Biden that was the same size and shape of the president’s framework.

She said Manchin had also promised to work with the White House going forward.

“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 in a remarkably tough passage.

The White House and Biden over much of the last year have sought to find a careful balance between pushing Manchin too hard and allowing him too much power over the process.


The West Virginian represents a state with a heavy GOP tilt that Biden lost in the 2020 election, and there have been worries in Democratic circles that being too aggressive with Manchin could be counterproductive.

“Obviously Joe Manchin holds the key to unlocking part of President Biden’s agenda and they have a vested interest in not alienating him right now,” Democratic strategist Joel Payne said in remarks to The Hill before Manchin’s Sunday comments. “Not alienating Manchin is a thing. You want to keep him engaged.”

But that appeared to change on Sunday, with Manchin’s surprise comments to Fox News and his own strongly worded statement that his Democratic colleagues were “determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face.”

“I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores and utility bills with no end in sight,” Manchin wrote.

Psaki said Manchin will have to explain his opposition to Build Back Better to “families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that,” to “women who would get the affordable day care” to “children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax Credit.”


She said the White House will continue to press Manchin on the bill and see if he will “reverse his position yet again” and “be true to his word.”

The Biden-Manchin relationship was tested throughout the last week as negotiations melted down and it became increasingly clear that Build Back Better was in real jeopardy.

Biden and Manchin spoke multiple times over the last week. A number of senior White House staff also talked to Manchin, including counselor Steve RicchettiSteve RicchettiBiden seeks to save what he can from Build Back Better Wicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties Bottom line MORE, according to a source familiar with the talks. Other top aides who were in contact with Manchin include head of the Office of Legislative Affairs Louisa TerrellLouisa TerrellBiden seeks to save what he can from Build Back Better Biden's unending dilemma: Dealing with Joe Manchin White House still thinks spending deal could be made before Europe trip MORE and National Economic Council Director Brian DeeseBrian DeeseBiden seeks to save what he can from Build Back Better Momentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks Hillicon Valley — Airlines issue warning about 5G service MORE, the source said.

Psaki’s statement left the door open for Manchin and Biden, who have insisted they have a good working relationship, to continue to talk.

But it’s hard to believe Sunday’s developments didn’t do some damage. Even before Manchin potentially drove a nail into the coffin of Build Back Better, sources close to the talks were noting the bad feelings.

“There’s already some frustration on both sides,” one source familiar with the Biden-Manchin relationship said. “If it doesn’t work out, there will be some resentment, I’m sure.”