Democrats set to play hardball with Manchin

Senate Democrats are signaling they plan to take more of a hardball approach to pressuring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their climate and social spending agenda after months of kid-glove treatment failed to deliver his vote.

Democrats are threatening to drive a wedge between Manchin and his many lower-income constituents who stand to reap billions of dollars in federal benefits if Build Back Better passes, including an enhanced child tax credit, lower Medicare-negotiated prescription drug prices and subsidies to cover the cost of child care.  

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday said Manchin will have to repeatedly defend his opposition to these popular programs by voting on the floor and took a subtle shot at his colleague for trying to dictate national policy through an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend.

Democratic aides say that Manchin can expect more tough treatment from Schumer and other Democratic lawmakers who are now under new pressure from the party’s base for failing to deliver on the “big, bold” agenda they promised earlier this year.

“He has had absolutely no pressure,” said one Democratic aide, citing Manchin’s friendly meetings with the at the White House and at Biden’s home in Delaware this fall that failed to produce results.

“Biden’s got to grab him by the lapels and say, ‘Listen, this ends now,’ ” the aide added, warning there’s little prospect of passing another piece of major legislation before the 2022 midterms if Build Back Better fails to pass.

Democratic senators have said for months they were reluctant to apply too much pressure on Manchin for fear that it might backfire and only goad him to dig in his heels more firmly against progressive priorities such as major new investments for renewable energy and expanded Medicare benefits.

There was also the looming threat that Manchin might leave the caucus and declare himself an independent. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters before the break that he would love to have Manchin join his caucus, though he acknowledged it wasn’t a likely possibility.

But now Biden, Schumer and other Democrats risk looking ineffective after Manchin flatly spurned their many entreaties with his bluntly stated opposition to Build Back Better on Fox News.

“He’s going to blow up the president’s agenda so I think you have to play hardball but there are different ways to play hardball,” said Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist who formerly advised the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“He’s making them looking ineffective,” he added.

On Sunday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki released a blistering statement that took Manchin to task for backing out of a deal Biden thought he had agreed to in October.

She said Manchin would have to explain his opposition to the bill to “families paying $1,000 a month for insulin,” to “two million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work” and to the “millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax credit,” which expired last week.

A day later, the White House was taking a much softer approach, with Psaki emphasizing Biden’s desire to work with Manchin at the daily briefing.

Biden met with Manchin at the White House in late September and late October as well as at the president’s home in Wilmington, Del., but without any major results to show for those meetings.

The White House said that Manchin signed off on a $1.75 trillion framework at the meeting in Delaware, which Schumer also attended, but Manchin this week disputed he had agreed to anything.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated Monday, Schumer took at not-so-subtle jab at Manchin.

“Senators should be aware that the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act, very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television,” Schumer vowed.

The Democratic leader warned that he would force Manchin to vote multiple times against Biden’s top priorities to hammer home the message that the West Virginia centrist is standing in the way of reforms that are designed to help low-income people in his home state.

“We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act – and we will keep voting on it until we get something done,” Schumer wrote.

A second Democratic aide said Schumer’s threat was remarkable because only days ago he pushed back on members of his caucus such as Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) who were pushing to force Manchin to take a vote on Build Back Better before Christmas.

The aide said Schumer knows many progressives in his party are angry over the failure to deliver Manchin’s vote and doesn’t leave a potential challenger any openings ahead of his reelection campaign in New York next year.

“It’s performative,” said the aide. “It’s hard not to view this through the lens of his coming primary.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a leading House progressive who has often criticized Manchin, in August did not rule out a primary challenge against Schumer.

Ocasio-Cortez on Monday said Manchin committed “an egregious breach of the trust of the president” and said “it’s an outcome that we had warned about well over a month ago.”

“Of course we have every right to be furious with Joe Manchin but it’s really up to leadership in the Democratic Party who made the decision to get us to this juncture and how we’re going to move forward and I think right now that the Democratic leadership as a very large number of tools at their disposal,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“And it’s really about time that we take the kid gloves off,” she added.

Senate progressives have also vented their frustration since Manchin told Fox host Bret Baier that he is a “no” on Build Back Better.

“I suspect that the people of West Virginia are like people in every other state. They want to lower prescription drug costs. They want Medicare to cover vision, hearing and dental. They want to continue $300 per child monthly payments. They want the wealthy to pay their fair share,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted Monday.

He reposted an interview he did with CNN’s “State of the Union” in which he called out Manchin for failing to meet his constituents needs.

“Mr. Manchin says he’s representing the people of West Virginia,” Sanders said. “I told Manchin, by the way, I’ll pay for the damn poll in West Virginia on those issues. See how the people of West Virginia feel.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another leading Senate progressive, applauded Schumer’s promise to force Manchin to vote on Build Back Better, potentially multiple times, even though he told Fox: “I tried everything possible. I can’t get there.”

“The American people expect the Senate to deliver on the Build Back Better plan AND protect the right to vote. Inaction is not an option: our democracy is under assault and our economy is not working for working people. Enough talk. It’s time to vote,” she tweeted. 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Charles Schumer Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Infrastructure Jen Psaki Joe Manchin Mitch McConnell
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