Senate Democrats are trying to turn down the temperature after days of high-profile drama and a delay of the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House.
The House broke on Friday after days of intense, hours-long meetings without an agreement on a path forward on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill, which is supposed to carry many of Democrats’ long-held policy ambitions.
The standoff on Capitol Hill sparked a proxy war between "the Squad" and Senate moderates, with leadership stuck in the middle trying to figure out a way to satisfy them both. But Senate Democrats, including progressives in the caucus, are largely avoiding piling on against Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push MORE (D-W.Va.).
“We are in negotiations with all Democrats. Everyone is trying to row in the same direction,” said Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves Warren, Jayapal demand answers on reported judicial ethics violations Warren calls for Amazon breakup MORE (D-Mass.), when asked if she was surprised or frustrated by Manchin’s $1.5 trillion top-line figure that’s $2 trillion short of what Biden and other Democrats have been pursuing.
Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Democrats dial down the Manchin tension Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (D-Mich.), who was spotted huddling with Manchin and Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Who is afraid of the EU's carbon border adjustment plan? MORE (D-Del.) on the Senate floor this week, noted that they talked about “things that we want to get done, that we share.”
“There’s a lot of common ground,” she added. “There’s a lot of positive effort.”
The effort to stay positive comes after Manchin threw down a gauntlet on Thursday, publicly announcing his preference for a $1.5 trillion price tag for Democrats’ social spending bill. That’s significantly less than the $3.5 trillion Democrats greenlighted under a budget resolution earlier this year and the bill drafted by House committees.
“For them to get theirs, elect more liberals. ... I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or form,” Manchin told reporters in a massive gaggle outside of the Capitol.
But the response from Senate Democrats was largely muted, with several spinning Manchin’s comments as a positive step forward after weeks of questions about what their moderate colleague was seeking.
“It’s certainly helpful to know Sen. Manchin’s priorities,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyExpats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines Growing number of Democrats endorse abolishing debt limit altogether Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (D-Conn.). “What he's signaling is that he wants to get a deal.”
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act MORE (D-Va.), asked if he viewed the $1.5 trillion as a hard stop for Manchin, said, “I would be surprised if that was a non-negotiable, just knowing Joe.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats' reconciliation bill breaks Biden's middle class tax pledge Missouri education department calls journalist 'hacker' for flagging security flaws on state website Democrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates MORE (D-Ore.), in response to a question about Manchin’s red line on $1.5 trillion, instead pointed back to the senator’s comments from earlier this week to a small group of reporters where he pointed to changes to the GOP 2017 tax bill as a core starting point.
“He made it very clear that he wants to start reconciliation by rolling back the 2017 tax bill. … I want everybody to know that the Senate Finance Committee and I have spent three years getting ready for exactly this, and we’re ready to go right now,” Wyden said.
“And one other point on this, he and I continue to have constructive discussions with regard to energy issues and I think that’s helpful,” Wyden continued.
Part of the calculus for Democrats has been a belief that throwing rhetorical bombs at Manchin isn’t likely to move him. Even as Senate progressives have deep disagreements with Manchin on both the size and some of the substance of the $3.5 trillion spending plan, in a 50-50 Senate and with all Republicans voting, leadership will ultimately need his support in order to be successful.
“I think this is really a situation where I don’t think that all of us sort of banging on Joe is going to do it,” Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan Senate poised to stave off debt crisis MORE (D-Hawaii) told reporters recently when asked to dish about the efforts by Senate Democrats to figure out what Manchin wants.
Asked about Manchin, Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE (D-Wis.) added during a CNN interview, “I like to look at the positives.”
“He is still negotiating. He's still talking. He's a little too focused on top-line numbers rather than programs. And let me say that I believe that progressives and moderates alike are committed to the 'Build Back Better' agenda,” she said.
It’s not just Senate Democrats, with key players in the House holding their punches.
After Manchin called a $3.5 trillion plan “fiscal insanity,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCongress is hell-bent on a spooky spending spree Pelosi on addressing climate through reconciliation package: 'This is our moment' House progressives lay out priorities for spending negotiations MORE (D-Calif.) didn’t bite on questions about her “Senate problem” and if she thought Manchin sounded “like someone who’s open to further negotiation.”
“Look, I think that Joe Manchin is a great member of Congress — of the Senate, we're friends. We're Italian Americans, we get along, Catholic, we have shared values. I have enormous respect for him. ... So we have our common ground,” Pelosi told reporters.
Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalWarren, Jayapal demand answers on reported judicial ethics violations Left doubles down on aggressive strategy Democrats call on White House to explore sharing Moderna technology abroad MORE (D-Wash.), asked about Manchin saying $1.5 trillion was his top-line figure, added that “there’s no point in us negotiating against ourselves.”
“We have invited Sen. Manchin or anyone else who wants to, to put forward their vision,” she added.
Democrats are facing high stakes amid weeks of escalating infighting and big questions about how they get their competing factions onto the same page. The two-part infrastructure and spending package is at the heart of Biden’s legislative agenda, with many Democrats viewing it as too big to fail as they increasingly turn their attention to 2022.
Biden met with House Democrats on Friday at the Capitol and predicted that afterward the two pieces of legislation — the Senate-passed bipartisan bill and a social spending package — would eventually land on his desk.
"We’re gonna get this done," Biden said as he departed the caucus meeting."It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re gonna get it done.”
Senate Democrats echoed those remarks, predicting that a deal would come together — at some point.
Kaine said that Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act To Win 2022: Go big on reconciliation and invest in Latinx voters McConnell-aligned group targeting Kelly, Cortez Masto and Hassan with M ad campaign MORE (D-N.Y.) “is optimistic that we’re going to get this done, and I am too.”
“I just think this is the tough part. The last days of labor. It's just the tough part of the negotiation,” Kaine added. “We want Biden to be successful. Biden being successful is going to be good for every last member of this caucus.”
Asked about the timing, Stabenow said, “You just don’t know. You really don’t know.”
“I think that time ends up in the details of writing,” she said. “We’re in a spot where people want to come together ... and they’re talking specifics.”