Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema
President Biden met face to face with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on Wednesday, stepping up his involvement in the effort to unify congressional Democrats behind a $3.5 trillion spending package.
Democratic lawmakers are hailing Biden’s personal attention as a game-changing development at a critical moment.
“The ones who are negotiating publicly, I think it is fair to say, they’re the toughest votes to get,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said of Manchin and Sinema.
“This is really important for the Biden administration, and so it’s all on deck,” he added of the efforts to get the two holdouts to support the reconciliation package.
Kaine noted that Biden “has a strong personal relationship with Manchin.”
“Both Joe and Kyrsten really want [Biden] to be a successful president. (A) It’s good for the country. (B) It’s good for their states. (C) It’s good for their own politics,” Kaine added.
While the White House has been involved in negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the size and scope of the spending package, Biden’s recent public appearances have focused more on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the rise in COVID-19 cases, and wildfires and floods in various parts of the country.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said the president knows the Manchin and Sinema meetings were only the start of negotiations with moderate Democrats.
“The president certainly believes they’ll be ongoing discussions, not that there’s necessarily going to be a conclusion out of those today,” she told reporters at the White House.
John LaBombard, a spokesman for Sinema, called Wednesday’s meeting “productive.”
“Kyrsten is continuing to work in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops,” he said.
Biden, who spent decades in the Senate before becoming vice president, met separately with each senator in an apparent effort to maximize the effect of his personal involvement.
He sat down with Sinema around 10 a.m. and met with Manchin several hours later.
Manchin was spotted walking into the White House at 5:30 p.m. wearing a blue blazer, gray slacks and rubber-soled boat shoes.
The prospects of passing the entire $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package suffered several setbacks in recent weeks, largely because of Manchin and Sinema.
The two senators raised red flags about the bill’s price tag, and Manchin has criticized specific provisions such as the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would provide $150 billion to steer electric utilities away from coal to renewable energy sources.
Manchin called for a “strategic pause” on the bill in a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the headline “Why I won’t support spending another $3.5 trillion.”
“Ignoring the fiscal consequences of our policy choices will create a disastrous future for the next generation of Americans,” he warned.
Sinema has also threatened to vote against a $3.5 trillion spending bill, although she has pledged to “work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats suffered a blow with the drafting of their reconciliation bill Wednesday when three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — Reps. Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Scott Peters (Calif.) and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) — voted against legislation to lower drug prices, which Democratic leaders are counting on as a key pay-for in the larger package.
Separately, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) sided with Republicans in the House Ways and Means Committee vote Wednesday to advance that panel’s portion of the reconciliation package, citing concerns about tax provisions.
Manchin reiterated his concerns with the massive reconciliation bill at a Senate Democratic caucus lunch meeting on Tuesday. The remarks, however, fell flat with colleagues.
“We’re frustrated with Manchin,” said one Democratic senator who attended the meeting. “It’s not like the president has shunned him. He’s reached out to Manchin before. Nobody’s gotten more attention from the White House.”
The lawmaker said Manchin reprised some of the arguments he made in The Wall Street Journal and during appearances on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend.
“The $64,000 question is, what’s his endgame? We don’t know,” said the lawmaker. “Part of what Biden is trying to figure out is, where does Manchin want to go?”
On Tuesday, Manchin questioned the need to spend $150 billion on weaning power plants away from coal when there are already plenty of private sector incentives to do so.
“Why should we be paying utilities to do what they’re already doing? We’re transitioning. Fifty percent of our power came from coal in the year 2000. Twenty years later, [it’s] 19 percent,” he told reporters.
Manchin also said he’s concerned about the reliability of depending entirely on renewable energy sources.
Senate Democrats have grown frustrated over what they view as Manchin’s “vague” demands for what the reconciliation bill should look like.
They also didn’t appreciate the double-barreled criticism in his Wall Street Journal op-ed that caught them off guard during the August recess.
“I was on a [congressional delegation trip] overseas with several colleagues when we read the op-ed, and we were aghast,” said another Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to discuss the internal dynamics of the Democratic caucus.
Manchin said fellow Democrats were “rushing” to spend another $3.5 trillion without fully understanding the potential ramifications of their actions. He warned that the bill could leave the federal government short of resources to respond to the pandemic if it gets worse because of viral mutations or if there’s another financial crisis like the Great Recession.
While some Democratic strategists have privately complained that Biden has not made more of a public sales pitch on behalf of his human infrastructure proposal, Democratic senators say they’re happy the president has let the talks play out on Capitol Hill without much interference.
Kaine said “it’s really important” that Biden is now getting personally involved in trying to persuade Manchin and Sinema get on board with the reconciliation bill.
“There’s a time when you get involved, and now is that time,” he said.
Kaine said Biden’s intervention in negotiations over the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month was “very critical” to keeping it on track.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that he hopes Biden’s personal involvement will be a difference-maker with Manchin and Sinema.
“That conversation is important,” he said.
Alex Gangitano contributed.