GOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema

Republicans are rallying around Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the centrists who are in a fierce battle with progressives in their party.

Senate Republicans, despite having many policy differences with Manchin and Sinema, are singing their praises, knowing that they will be key to stopping or slowing President Biden’s ambitious agenda.

Both Democrats would be top Republican targets in 2024 if they decide to run for reelection, and GOP leaders are usually loath to offer praise to such lawmakers.

But in a 50-50 Senate, where Manchin and Sinema can make or break Biden’s policy goals, many Republicans hail them as saviors.

“I tell them I think they’re saving the country,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

“I know they’re getting beat up by their leadership and their base and everything else, but I think they’re in a really good place right now because they’re in a position to influence and shape what comes out of this,” he added.

When Manchin told reporters recently that he didn’t want to spend more than $1.5 trillion on Biden’s Build Back Better agenda because he didn’t want “to change our whole society to an entitlement mentality,” it was music to the ears of GOP colleagues.

Thune said both Manchin and Sinema are “playing an incredibly constructive role in trying to make the country stronger, not weaker.”

Progressives see Manchin and Sinema as stubborn opponents and disloyal to their party and president.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who says Democrats need to spend a minimum of $3.5 trillion on expanded Medicare benefits, expanded child care and fighting climate change, says Manchin is not helping his constituents.

“You should go to West Virginia, ask working families whether they think it’s a good idea that older people — West Virginia’s an older state — have teeth in their mouths, have hearing aids, have eyeglasses,” Sanders said, offering biting criticism of the West Virginia senator.

“Ask working families whether or not he’s a hero when people are paying 20, 25 percent of their income for child care. Ask people if he’s a hero in terms of not moving aggressively to [address] what the scientists tell us is an existential threat to the planet,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Republican colleagues at a meeting last week that one reason for why he agreed to a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on a short-term debt limit increase was because he feared that Manchin and Sinema would be under growing pressure from fellow Democrats to weaken the filibuster to stave off a credit crisis.

McConnell also reached out to share his plan to solve the debt standoff with Manchin and Sinema before unveiling it publicly, according to a Senate GOP aide.

Manchin, asked about that by reporters last week, denied that he knew the details of McConnell’s proposed two-month debt limit extension ahead of its public release.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), an important GOP swing vote, raised concerns at last week’s Tuesday Republican conference lunch that the debt limit stalemate was putting pressure on Manchin and Sinema to gut the filibuster, according to two GOP sources familiar with the meeting.

Sharp-tongued conservatives are offering complimentary words for the two centrists as well. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) even referred to them by their first names.

“I’m glad there are at least a couple of Democrats in the Senate conference who are not willing to blindly sign on to Bernie Sanders’s socialist budget,” he said. “I’m glad to see Joe and Kyrsten standing up to the radical left. They’re demonstrating some real courage, because the hard left is pounding them.

“I’m glad to see them demonstrating the strength of character to say, ‘This is not what the people of West Virginia want, this is not what the people of Arizona want,’” he added.

Senate Republicans are framing their messaging strategy around concerns that Manchin has expressed about rising inflation, the global competitiveness of U.S. companies, the future of fossil fuels and the lack of bipartisanship behind the proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation proposal.

Republican have seized on Manchin’s worries about inflation and made it a regular talking point, even though experts such as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell say that higher-than-average inflation is temporary and likely to ease by next year.

Cruz and other Republicans say they agree more with Manchin, who has pointed to rising prices at Dollar General stores in West Virginia as a major problem. Manchin’s comments are also helpful for Republicans, who are using rising prices to attack Biden.

“I think he is absolutely right,” Cruz said of Manchin’s inflation fears. “We’re seeing an inflation bomb going off across this country. Hard-working Americans are seeing the cost of just about everything going up. We’re seeing the cost of gasoline go up, the cost of food go up, the cost of rent go up, the cost of lumber go up, the cost of homes go up.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) joked that he’s accused Manchin of stealing his message.

“I’ve accused him of plagiarism,” he quipped. “I’m glad that Sen. Manchin is talking about that, I hope he keeps talking about it.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he agrees with Manchin that the country is at a “fiscal tipping point” because “we’ve just got so much money flooding the system.”

“I know it’s tough but I think he’s standing on principle. I think the same of Sen. Sinema,” he said.

Republicans leapt to Sinema’s defense earlier this month when activists followed her into a bathroom at Arizona State University, where she lectures, to pressure her to support Biden’s full agenda.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who worked closely with Sinema on the $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package passed by the Senate in August, called the tactics “inexcusable.”

Democrats also defended Sinema, but some of them also defended the activists filming here. Biden said he disagreed with such tactics but also said they came with being in the arena of politics, a notably less tough tone than Romney’s.

“We don’t always see eye to eye, but I respect her,” the Utah senator tweeted. “The harassment she has endured is inexcusable and disheartening. It reflects so poorly on the bullies and abusers.” 

Tags Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Chuck Schumer Filibuster Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Thune Kyrsten Sinema Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Ted Cruz Thom Tillis

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