Pressure builds on Manchin to back Biden relief bill
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is under mounting pressure from fellow Democrats to back a large COVID-19 relief package along the lines of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal.
Manchin has the power to block a budget resolution that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will introduce this week to lay the groundwork for passing another massive relief package without any Republican votes.
The West Virginia senator has said repeatedly that his goal is to help unite the country and restore bipartisanship in the Senate, but Democrats are growing confident he’ll be with them if push comes to shove.
By moving ahead with a budget resolution this week, Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are betting that Manchin will stick with them on a big vote later this week, Democratic aides say.
“Chuck Schumer is not going to bring up a budget vote where he doesn’t have all 50 secure, and he’s not going to let Joe Manchin be the 51st to vote against it. That’s just not going to happen,” said a Senate Democratic aide.
The aide said Manchin would face serious political backlash if he derailed Biden’s plans to pass a major coronavirus relief package.
“It would be politically insane for Manchin to do that,” the aide said.
“He knows that with this power he has the ability to get a lot of money for his state. If he’s just the guy who votes against stuff, that goes away,” the aide said, noting Manchin could use his leverage to get one or several of his priorities added to the legislation.
If Manchin supports Democrats in moving Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal or a similarly sized package, that will allow them to move forward with a straight party-line vote instead of needing to clear the 60-vote threshold most legislation requires.
Manchin has been called Washington’s most powerful senator in a 50-50 split Senate. The question now is whether he will use that power against Democrats and force them to retreat on a partisan COVID-19 relief proposal or if he’ll save his political capital for something else down the road.
One concession Manchin could win is inclusion of his bipartisan bill to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure in the broader relief package.
“Our miners risk their lives every day to power our nation and during the COVID-19 pandemic, that risk is even greater for our brave miners,” Manchin said in a statement Monday.
He noted the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would instruct the Labor Department to create safeguards and provide personal protective equipment to miners.
Patrick Hickey, a former political science professor at West Virginia University and congressional expert, said the miner relief bill would be a significant win for Manchin and his constituents.
Hickey said Manchin is likely stressing his independence ahead of legislative negotiations to enhance his leverage and is unlikely to go to war with fellow Democrats over the relief package.
“He’s a pretty shrewd politician,” Hickey said. “He could have been trying to get something.”
“He may have been trying to put pressure on the White House, like, ‘I’m the guy you got to deal with now,’ ” he added.
Manchin has come under pressure from both sides of the political spectrum to step back from a group of moderate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who are pushing for a smaller relief package that would cost $618 billion.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who is known for having an adversarial relationship with Manchin, on Monday urged Congress to “go big” with the coronavirus relief and warned that now is not the time to raise concerns about the budget deficit.
“We need to understand that trying to be, per se, fiscally responsible at this point in time, with what we’ve got going on in this country — if we actually throw away some money right now, so what?” Justice told CNN in an interview.
“We have really got to move and get people taken care of,” he said.
Later Monday, Justice warned Congress not to get bogged down in another standoff, which delayed last year’s $900 billion package for months.
“At this point in time in this nation, we need to go big. We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move. And move forward and move right now,” he told MSNBC in an interview.
Manchin has also come under direct pressure from the Biden administration.
Vice President Harris gave an interview with WSAZ, an NBC affiliate in West Virginia, in which she made a strong pitch for Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal.
“In West Virginia, 1 in 7 families is describing their household as being hungry, 1 in 6 can’t pay their rent, and 1 in 4 small businesses are closing permanently or have already closed, so it’s a big issue in West Virginia and across the country,” Harris told the station. “And that’s why the president and I are offering the American Rescue Plan.”
That not-so-subtle arm-twisting didn’t sit well with Manchin, who vented frustration at Harris for not giving him a heads-up before venturing onto his home turf for a media appearance.
“I couldn’t believe it. No one called me [about it],” Manchin told WSAZ. “We’re going to try to find a bipartisan pathway forward, but we need to work together. That’s not a way of working together.”
The White House later reached out to Manchin in what appeared to be an effort to repair relations.
“We’ve been in touch with Sen. Manchin, as we have been for many weeks and will continue to be moving forward,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.
Schumer and Pelosi on Monday filed their joint budget resolution instructing committees to provide $1,400 per person and per child direct payments, an item that was missing from a counterproposal offered by 10 Senate Republicans over the weekend.
Manchin has expressed skepticism over increasing the stimulus checks to $2,000, when counting the $600 checks included in the $900 billion relief proposal enacted at the end of last year.
“I don’t know where in the hell $2,000 came from. I swear to God I don’t,” Manchin said recently. “That’s another $400 billion.”
But Manchin has stopped short of ruling out voting for the direct payments, as have other centrist Democrats who want the relief to be more targeted by limiting the payments to people earning $50,000 a year or less.
Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), a fellow Democratic centrist, says he will vote for the budget resolution this week, even if he would prefer to target the direct checks more narrowly to lower-income Americans.
Asked if all 50 members of the Democratic caucus would vote for the resolution, Tester replied, “I think so,” but added that Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) would have a better grasp of the count.
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