West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin won't be swayed to vote for President Joe Biden's social spending bill before Christmas despite an all-out blitz from the White House and members of Democratic congressional leadership to address Manchin's inflation-related concerns.
Biden and Manchin spoke twice by phone on the subject. Democratic officials familiar with those discussions told the Washington Examiner that Manchin is in no hurry to support the legislation, which requires his vote to pass the Senate, and is willing to drag negotiations out until the new year. Those same officials, however, believe that Manchin will eventually vote "yay" and that his insistence on discussing "hypothetical" fiscal impacts is an exercise in "moderation" for Democrats.
"Sen. Manchin, unlike what some House progressives claim, wants the same thing we want: to help people in this country who need it most," one official claimed. "That being said, he doesn't want to back legislation that will rob Peter to pay Paul and place an unmanageable financial burden on future generations."
Politico reported, however, that the talks between Manchin and the president's camp are "going very poorly," with one source claiming the two are "far apart."
A White House official additionally suggested to the Washington Examiner that despite Manchin's "good intentions," his apparent refusal to play ball has irritated some within the administration. That person remained adamant that Manchin will eventually come around to vote with the caucus in 2022 but that the delay could affect Democrats' hopes of maintaining congressional majorities in the midterm elections.
White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre danced around the issue while gaggling with reporters last Wednesday afternoon.
Jean-Pierre had claimed that Republicans' refusal to support Build Back Better and, by extension, to allow the pandemic-expanded child tax credit to expire in mid-December was "reprehensible." Still, when pressed to answer if Manchin's current opposition was "also reprehensible," she called the West Virginia senator a "friend."
"We’ve had very good conversations. The president has had two great conversations with him this week that have been productive. Even Manchin had said this," Jean-Pierre said. "They talked about iterations of the bill. I'm not going to say more because even Manchin said this person-to-person conversation should be kept that way. So, I'm not going to read out more on that, but we believe the senator wants what we want, which is to deliver for the American people in a way that it has a real effect, especially during this time of COVID and getting the economy back."
It's worth noting that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer seems to have accepted the reality that Manchin's position won't allow Build Back Better to pass before the holidays. He has repeatedly expressed his desire to vote on the bill before Christmas in recent weeks, but he did not mention the deadline during his Wednesday press conference. Schumer also moved to advance Democrats' long-stalled voting rights packages Wednesday evening, a clear sign that the caucus is abandoning his Build Back Better deadline.
"I would like to see Build Back Better dealt with as quickly as possible," Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested. "But if we can’t deal with it right now, it’s far more important we deal with the voting rights issue."
Meanwhile, the White House has never put much stock in Schumer's Christmas deadline, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly declined to make a "prediction" on when Manchin will be convinced to vote with Democrats.
"I don't think we're in a place to make that prediction from here, nor is anyone at this point in time. I mean, the president supports this package, of course, because it includes an extension of the child tax credit, but also because it will lower the cost of prescription drugs, of child care, of elder care, of housing," she said. "Key components that are impacting people across this country. He thinks that's a pretty compelling case. The American public agrees. They like all of those components, too, but he also understands how the legislative process works."
Some of Manchin's Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill have also voiced displeasure at his fiscal holdups in recent days.
"We will pass Build Back Better," South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn said. "We’re just not going to pass it on the time frame that some people would like to see."
"We are just trying to get the Senate back to where it used to be where we can get stuff done and one guy can’t hold everything up," Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester added.