Democrats descend into finger-pointing after Build Back Better implodes
Finger-pointing consumed the Democratic party on Monday, one day after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced he would vote no on President Biden’s signature climate and social policy legislation, effectively derailing the president’s domestic agenda heading into a critical election year.
There’s no shortage of Democrats piling on Manchin, whose ongoing concerns about the bill hung up negotiations in the 50-50 Senate for months.
“I think what Sen. Manchin did yesterday represents such an egregious breach of the trust of the president,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It’s an outcome we had warned about well over a month ago.”
Another leader of the Progressive Caucus, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), accused Manchin of abandoning suffering Americans and undermining Biden and the United States on the world stage after the president addressed a Scotland climate gathering and vowed action.
“Build Back Better is about addressing the unprecedented challenges we are facing right now: a climate catastrophe, working families struggling to make ends meet, addressing inflation and giving everyday Americans a shot at prosperity. Walking away from BBB is essentially ignoring the crises in front of us that demand action,” Escobar told The Hill.
“How will we be able to convince any of our global partners to trust us again or to do the right things on climate? To say this is calamitous for our planet would be an understatement.”
But while much of the party’s frustration was aimed at Manchin, some Democrats on Capitol Hill voiced outrage with the White House for bungling the Build Back Better negotiations.
For the better part of the year, White House officials struggled to manage a messy intraparty standoff between progressives and moderates over the timing and political tactics of how the Build Back Better bill and a separate infrastructure package would be passed.
To break the stalemate, Biden promised progressives that if they cleared the way for the infrastructure bill, he would secure Manchin’s vote for Build Back Better. One Democratic lawmaker said Biden should never have overpromised to progressives, especially about backing big liberal priorities like paid family leave and expanded child tax credits that Manchin was privately rejecting.
This House Democrat also criticized Biden for never holding anyone on his team accountable after big political missteps, including the botched and deadly Afghanistan withdrawal and delays with rental assistance funding.
“This is an indictment of the senior leadership in the White House. The worst part is nobody will be held accountable for this. They don’t understand the American people want results; they don’t want drama and rhetoric,” the House Democrat said in a lengthy rant over the phone. “Everyone has been left high and dry. I can see everyone [vulnerable Democrats] fleeing for the hills at this point,” abandoning Biden and running their own races.
“It started with Afghanistan. Nobody was held accountable for the chaos that the Afghanistan withdrawal constituted. It allowed everyone to get a pass. It sent the message that the president will stick by you so do whatever you want,” the lawmaker continued.
“I do think [Biden] needs to clean house if we have any chance of salvaging 2022. There have to be consequences,” the source added.
The White House did not comment for this story.
While most of the Democratic Party is furious with Manchin, there is also a recognition that Democrats still need his vote to move anything through the Senate.
Given those facts, some in the party questioned the wisdom of the scathing statement directed toward Manchin that was issued by White House press secretary Jen Psaki shortly after Manchin’s own stunning appearance on Fox News.
Psaki accused Manchin of negotiating in bad faith and going back on his word, an accusation that would find support among Manchin’s Senate Democratic colleagues. Nonetheless, it was a public accusation unusual in its ferocity given the subject was a senator in the president’s own party.
“They’ve lost their fuckin’ minds,” one Democratic strategist said bluntly of the White House statement.
Jim Manley, who was a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said the White House was justified in the statement but questioned whether it would damage future talks as Democrats try to push forward with their priorities.
“Part of me felt that it was entirely reasonable to take the tact they did, but the part of me that’s had to deal with loose cannons within the caucus before recognizes that it’s a good way to drive Manchin even more away from the process,” Manley said.
A second strategist who asked to talk on background to speak frankly said it was a significant break in tone and was meant to putt pressure on Manchin.
“Feels like the Manchin relationship has officially pivoted to one where the objective is to create pressure,” this strategist said.
The dysfunction has left Democrats even more worried about the 2022 midterm elections.
“This hurts for the midterms if you don’t pass it. In 1994, Democrats failed to pass Hillarycare. In 2010, they failed to pass cap and trade. In 2018, Republicans failed to repeal Obamacare. It’s not that voters desperately wanted all of those policies to happen, but it looked like the party in power was not effective,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “The difference with Build Back Better is most of these policies are very popular.”
A day after his stunner, Manchin criticized White House staff, but not Biden specifically, in a local radio interview Monday morning and warned Democrats against trying to back him into a corner.
“They figured surely to God we can move one person. We surely can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough that they’ll just say, ‘OK, I’ll vote for anything,'” Manchin said.
“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.”
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