Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema

President BidenJoe BidenPfizer CEO says vaccine data for those under 5 could be available by end of year Omicron coronavirus variant found in at least 10 states Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles MORE met face to face with Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems press drillers over methane leaks Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Joe Manchin should embrace paid leave — now MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Green groups spend big to promote climate policy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (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 KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineLiberty University professor charged with alleged sexual battery and abduction of student Senate parliamentarian looms over White House spending bill Menendez jabs State official over Colombian group's terror designation MORE (D-Va.) said of Manchin and Sinema.

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“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 SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan MORE (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level MORE (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 PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Overnight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Researcher who helped discover omicron blasts travel bans: 'Is that how you reward science?' MORE 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.”

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“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 SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderFive takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill House passes giant social policy and climate measure Democrats press toward vote on massive Biden bill MORE (Ore.), Scott PetersScott H. PetersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Pfizer, US strike COVID-19 pill deal CBO: Democrats' package saves about 0B on drug prices Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week MORE (Calif.) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceFive takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Dems brace for score on massive Biden bill Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week MORE (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 MurphyStephanie MurphyFlorida Republicans debate how far to push congressional remap Five takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Overnight Energy & Environment — House passes giant climate, social policy bill MORE (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.

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“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. 

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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 DurbinDick DurbinFour questions that deserve answers at the Guantanamo oversight hearing Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Conservatives target Biden pick for New York district court MORE (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.