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Manchin cements key-vote status in 50-50 Senate

As Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOn The Money: How demand is outstripping supply and hampering recovery | Montana pulls back jobless benefits | Yellen says higher rates may be necessary Senate Democrats announce B clean bus plan NYC 24-hour subway service resumes May 17 MORE (D-N.Y.) scrambled to save the massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus package, he warned Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBusiness groups target moderate Democrats on Biden tax plans Democrats fret over Biden spending Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands MORE (D-W.Va.) that supporting a GOP unemployment proposal would effectively sink the legislation.

"I said that’s going to kill the bill, Joe. That is going to kill the bill. He thought about it for several hours, and realized that. And then said, ‘OK, let’s come to a compromise,’" Schumer recounted during an CNN interview Tuesday night.

Manchin ultimately fell back in line after outreach from President BidenJoe BidenCensus results show White House doubling down on failure Poll: Americans back new spending, tax hikes on wealthy, but remain wary of economic impact True immigration reform requires compromise from both sides of the aisle MORE and concessions on the unemployment language his caucus had touted just hours before as an agreement.

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But the drama underscored Manchin's power and served as a preview of the headaches likely awaiting Schumer as he tries to keep his most conservative member on board without losing progressives in the process.

With a 50-50 split in the chamber, Manchin is at the center of the Senate and its looming fights, putting him under a massive spotlight where any utterance quickly gets dissected over what it could mean for Biden and congressional Democrats.

Manchin stressed that he doesn’t view himself as having veto power over Biden’s agenda, even after he was able to muscle in changes to the COVID-19 relief bill and helped sink Neera TandenNeera TandenManchin says he doesn't support DC statehood, election reform bills Manchin floats breaking up Biden's infrastructure proposal 100 days is a ridiculous way to judge a presidency MORE’s nomination for Office of Management and Budget director.

“I don’t look at that at all, I really don’t. There's got to be other people ... that has to believe that we’ve got to calm down and come together,” Manchin told The Hill.

He said that while reporters might assume “everybody loves to be in this position — trust me, there’s nothing I enjoy at all about this. At all. I wish there were more people that were willing to try to find a compromise.”

But he’s also not shying away from the spotlight.

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Manchin went on a media blitz with the Sunday morning shows and appeared on Fox News two days later. In between, he gaggled with reporters around the Capitol.

And even though the relief bill is now headed to Biden’s desk, Manchin’s ability to flex his political muscles isn’t going away anytime soon. He’s undecided on Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraWe urgently need a COVID-level response to the US drug crisis FDA unveils plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars Supreme Court won't hear Texas case challenging California travel ban MORE’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Pentagon is urging him to support Colin Kahl’s nomination to a top policy job.

He’s also in the middle of a fight over what, if anything, Democrats will be able to accomplish while the legislative filibuster remains intact.

“Well, he's been the most outspoken, along with Sen. [Kyrsten] Sinema, on this question. And that's why he gets  you call it grief,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction Senators push to allow for remote voting during national crisis MORE (D-Ill.), asked if Manchin was the obstacle to nixing the filibuster rule.

“I think he’s very genuine about bipartisanship. ... I've seen him devote more hours than you can imagine,” Durbin said. “So I mean, he really cares about it, and I respect him for it. But, you know, there comes a point where there aren’t enough Republicans to provide votes, and we can't achieve bipartisanship that way.”

Manchin created a frenzy, and earned praise from reform advocates, after he appeared to open the door on Sunday to the idea of requiring a “talking filibuster,” effectively making opponents stand on the Senate floor and speak instead of being able to block a bill behind the scenes.

But two days later, Manchin clarified, saying he wanted a 60-vote threshold or a “41 protest vote” and appeared surprised by how his remarks had been interpreted.

“All I said is bring me some ideas. ... The only thing I can tell you is I’m not going to do anything to harm the filibuster,” Manchin said. “There’s a 60-vote threshold. If there’s a better way to make sure the minority has input, tell it to me.”

Asked if he had seen the amount of press coverage his Sunday comments had spawned, Manchin added: “Right now they’re just hanging on anything to make news.” 

Though several Democrats are wary of nixing the filibuster, it was on-the-record opposition from Manchin and Sinema (D-Ariz.) that helped convince Republicans to drop a demand that language on the procedural tool be included in the 50-50 Senate’s organizing resolution earlier this year.

“I’ve spoken to both of them, and some just recently here in the last few days, and they’re very adamant about that,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base GOP wrestles with role of culture wars in party's future MORE (R-S.D.) said about the pledge to keep the filibuster in place.

Manchin also finds himself at the center of two big policy fights: an infrastructure package that Democrats are hoping to pass by September and pressure on Biden to make good on his promise to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

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Manchin isn’t the only Democrat who’s not on board with a minimum wage hike; eight voted against it late last week, underscoring the uphill climb for progressives.

But he’s circulating a proposal among his colleagues to set the minimum wage at $11 and then index it to inflation. Manchin has been handing out so-called floor cards, small pieces of paper that include reasons he believes senators should back his forthcoming plan.

On infrastructure, Manchin’s vote will be critical if Biden hopes to get his legislative package through the Senate. Manchin is making it clear that he wants more than a perfunctory effort to get GOP support for the measure.

Manchin, a conservative Democrat from a state Trump easily won in 2016 and 2020, is in many ways part of a dying breed in an increasingly polarized Senate. Republicans view him as one of their best negotiating partners, while progressives view him as out of touch to the no-holds-barred style of politics that is increasingly seeping into the Capitol’s clubby atmosphere.

“It gets to the point where the rubber’s got to meet the road on the filibuster. And I’m sorry, but so many of my Democratic colleagues in the Senate need to wake up and smell the coffee,” said Rep.  Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezCivilian Climate Corps can help stem rural-urban divide Biden barely gets a passing grade when it comes to foreign policy They like him, they really like him: Biden and the youth vote MORE (D-N.Y.), warning that Democrats were “romanticizing” the history of the filibuster and calling opposition from Manchin and others to abolishing it "ridiculous."

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), in an interview with The Guardian, added that “if Manchin and Sinema enjoy being in the majority, they had better figure out a way to get around the filibuster when it comes to voting and civil rights.”

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Schumer, asked on Wednesday, declined to say what Democrats would ultimately do about the filibuster but pledged they were united in wanting to enact a “bold” agenda.

“I get along very well with Sen. Manchin. We don’t agree on some things but we always talk to each other,” Schumer said.

Manchin had an infamously antagonistic relationship with Schumer’s predecessor, Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE (Nev.), with no love lost on either side. But Manchin agreed that he and Schumer have a good relationship, saying the Brooklynite “knows where I’m coming from.”

But he warned that how his party handles their fragile majority — including the eventual outcome of the filibuster rules fight — could come back to haunt them.

“This is the perfect scenario, what goes around comes around,” he said. “Whatever you do here, and you think you have the ability to do it by using the procedures and the rules, it will come back around to you and it will hurt you.”

Updated at 8:08 a.m.