The White House came out hard against Sen. Joe Manchin after its talks with him on President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar spending bill collapsed, but the West Virginia Democrat says officials should look in the mirror.

Manchin has said that Biden was poorly served by his staff, who did not listen to his concerns about the bill. White House officials irked the senator earlier this year when Vice President Kamala Harris conducted interviews with West Virginia media in a move that appeared designed to put pressure on him. “I saw it. I couldn’t believe it. No one called me,” he said at the time.


When a White House update last week targeted Manchin over delays moving Build Back Better forward, similar pressure tactics seemed again at work. Manchin and Biden had last spoken Dec. 14, with reports suggesting the negotiations would continue into the new year.

“It’s not the president. This is staff,” the senator told Hoppy Kercheval on Monday.

“I just got to the wit’s end,” he said, adding that White House staff “drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is, and that’s it.”

Manchin pointed to a statement issued by the White House on Sunday, which he said came in retaliation for a Fox News appearance during which the senator said he could no longer vote for Biden’s social and climate spending agenda. For most of the year, White House and Democratic leadership struggled to reconcile the diverging priorities of the party’s centrist and liberal factions and chart a path forward for Biden’s infrastructure and social spending plans. To break the standstill, the president vowed to secure Manchin’s vote on Build Back Better if left-wing members cleared the way for the bipartisan infrastructure bill to pass.

Negotiations over the bill picked up, but Manchin said there remained obstacles between the parties over provisions in the bill and ways to pay for them.

In her rebuke, Psaki called Manchin’s pullback from negotiations a “sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position and a breach of his commitments to the president and the senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.” White House officials said the president approved the blistering missive.

Responding to this, Manchin said, “Basically, they retaliated.” He added that “staff-driven” issues hampered progress throughout.

“They figured surely to God we can move one person,” the senator said. “We can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they’ll just say, ‘Okay, I’ll vote for anything. Just quit.’

“I’m from West Virginia," Manchin continued. "I’m not from where they’re from, and they just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period.”

The White House declined to say much more about the president and Manchin’s talks, including whether these would resume by year’s end. “I'm not going to relitigate the tick-tock of yesterday,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

The finger-pointing has left no Democrat unscathed.

One anonymous House Democrat lit into the White House’s handling of the crisis, arguing that it marked a pattern of ambivalence from top officials that hurts lawmakers.

“This is an indictment of the senior leadership in the White House. The worst part is nobody will be held accountable for this. They don't understand the American people want results; they don't want drama and rhetoric,” this source told The Hill. “Everyone has been left high and dry.”

The source said Democrats in swing districts might be left “fleeing for the hills at this point,” distancing themselves from the president as they look to 2022.

The lawmaker said the fallout began during Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan over the summer, as the Taliban took control of Kabul. “Nobody was held accountable. … It sent the message that the president will stick by you so do whatever you want.”

Biden “needs to clean house if we have any chance of salvaging 2022,” the person said. “There have to be consequences.”

Liberal lawmakers tore into Manchin on Monday. On a press call, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal blasted the senator’s “lack of integrity,” which she called “stunning in a town where people say the only thing that you have is your word.” The Washington representative said she talked to Manchin earlier that morning.

Biden’s effort to reconcile his fractured party and bring Republicans on board with infrastructure has won him little favor with Democrats, who see his agenda stalled with few chances to resurrect it as the midterm elections approach.

“One of the criticisms I've had with President Biden all along is that he was wedded to the Senate of the past,” Jim Manley, a former top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the Washington Examiner. “But the problem here is that the guy who stuck it in his ribs was a Democrat.”

Targeting White House aides was just a tactic, he said. “One of the oldest tricks in the book is to blame staff and not the principal,” he said.

On Sunday, Manchin took a bullet to Biden’s sweeping spending bill, telling Fox News Sunday’s Bret Baier that he could not support the bill. In the evenly split chamber, Biden’s bill needs every Democratic vote.

Asked whether he intended to remain a Democrat, the centrist said that he “would like to hope that there’s still Democrats that feel like I do. I’m ... fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. Now, if there’s no Democrats like that, push me wherever they want me.”

In the interview, Manchin said he had made his position clear from the outset but that the differences became irreconcilable.

“We’ve been way far apart philosophically,” he said. “When they first brought the bill out, I said to [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer, 'There’s nothing in there about accountability, holding people accountable. There’s no work requirements. There’s no means testing to where you’re targeting the people who really need it.'”

He continued, “I gave Schumer exactly the philosophical beliefs and the amount of money that I thought we could raise to pay for everything. So they’ve had that from day one, in July.”

Asked whether Democratic leaders had negotiated with him in poor faith, Manchin said no but that he disagreed with provisions his colleagues were set on.

“They couldn’t take away all the social reforms that they’ve had pent up for years,” he argued. “You’ve heard them speak heavily against any work requirements. ... Why are we allowing someone that makes $500,000 to get a discount on an electric vehicle? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

“If you want to talk about income inequality, the reason there’s income inequality is because the tax code allows it to happen.”


On Sunday, the senator said in a statement later that people “deserve transparency on the true cost of the Build Back Better Act. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined the cost is upwards of $4.5 trillion, which is more than double what the bill’s ardent supporters have claimed. They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill.”

Where the bill goes from here, the White House hasn’t said. Jayapal and the Progressive Caucus have urged executive action where possible on parts of Build Back Better. Psaki told reporters Monday that she was “not aware of that being under discussion.”

Biden and Manchin talked late Sunday, ending their conversation with the assumption that negotiations would continue in the new year, two sources told Politico.