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Washington Post Takes Us Inside Manchin Tantrum That Killed Build Back Better
Shades of Newt Gingrich in the back of Air Force One
Sunday's Washington Post brought us what promised to be the thrilling behind-the-scenes true story of " How the White House lost Joe Manchin, and its plan to transform America" (free linky), with insider accounts of how the nominally Democratic senator from West Virginia and the Biden White House just couldn't reach an agreement to pass Joe Biden's signature legislative package, the Build Back Better bill, which had already passed in the House and just needed buy-in from Manchin to pass in the Senate. It's an interesting read, but don't go looking for any great insight into any epic clash of principles and personalities. Instead, we're told, the Build Back Better negotiations fell apart because Joe Manchin was offended by a White House statement that he felt was Very Unfair to him, so he had a big tantrum and sank the bill. Or at least, that's what the insiders say.
The Post explains that on December 14, Manchin and the White House seemed close to a deal:
Manchin had offered to support a $1.8 trillion package, a step toward the White House position, while Biden agreed to jettison a budget gimmick that Manchin believed disguised the true cost of the plan. The tenor of their conversations was “peachy,” according to one person briefed on the talks, and the two sides agreed to put out a statement saying they would continue talking.
And then, incredibly, it all fell apart.
The big problem was that the White House issued a statement that "named Manchin as the focus of negotiations," and Manchin was furious about that, although that had been obvious to anyone paying even a little bit of attention. The story says that the White House sent Manchin's office a draft of the statement, and that Manchin's people asked that Manchin either not be named or that the statement say negotiations included Sen Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) too. The story notes that, once the prospect of income tax increases was eliminated, Sinema was on board, but that's what they asked for.
And here, children, is why we won't be ending child poverty, having free childcare or universal pre-K, lower drug prices, or take serious action on climate:
The White House issued the statementanyway. The president had personally signed off on it. But Manchin exploded, texting a senior Biden aide that the decision was “unconscionable and extremely dangerous” at a time when liberal activists were targeting Manchin’s family with protests.
The Post doesn't really go into much detail on what "targeting Manchin’s family with protests" consisted of, but as far as we can tell from stories last year, that mostly involved the kayakers floating around his houseboat and calling for him to address climate change. Also some people chanted at him while he was getting in his Maserati SUV in a parking garage. No, they were not threatening anyone's life, that's more of a MAGAworld thing.
As for the White House press release itself, it was hardly a besmirch statement of libelslander, either. Issued in Joe Biden's name, the December 16 statement expressed optimism that the negotiations were moving right along, and didn't even remotely criticize or threaten Manchin. Here's the relevant bit:
I had a productive call with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer earlier today. I briefed them on the most recent discussions that my staff and I have held with Senator Manchin about Build Back Better. In these discussions, Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September. I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition.
My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week.
The statement goes on to say that actually getting stuff into legislative language takes time, but expresses confidence that yadda yadda yadda. Notice that the closest the statement gets to "pressuring" Manchin is the bit about his support for funding it, which certainly suggested no more damn cuts please.
Manchin's reaction was just plain weird:
Once the White House statement was released, Manchin “was just explosive. The anger — you could not believe the intensity,” said one person who spoke with him around that time.
Shortly afterward, Manchin texted Steve Ricchetti, one of the president’s top aides: “Steve, the statement you all put out tonight targeting me and my family was unconscionable and extremely dangerous. There will be no further negotiations,” two people familiar with the contents of the message said. Manchin allies say his reaction was in part driven by the number of credible threats at the time to his and his family’s safety.
Again, we're talking about kayaks, folks, unless there were a lot of terrible MAGA-style threats of death and dismemberment that we're not being told about; those would be terrible, but the White House statement doesn't "target" Manchin's family in the least.
In any case, aides say the White House statement crossed a red line for Manchin, and he was so very very mean mad that he turned off his phone and wouldn't take Joe Biden's calls, and that's why Build Back Better is dead and buried, although there are still hopes that he might be persuaded to support a very modest package of climate and tax measures, especially if someone can convince him it'll cut the deficit (nor cut consumption of fossil fuels).
We won't go into all the gory details here, but while we're perfectly willing to believe that Manchin had a shit fit over the statement, we'd also point out that he spent pretty much all of 2021 finding things he simply couldn't tolerate in Build Back Better, from the details of the electric vehicle tax credits to the fact that the child tax credit reduced child poverty without shaming poor people like it should, to his bizarre claim that low income parents would just blow the tax credits on drugs. And of course there was also his complaint that the funding cuts he'd demanded now were too sneaky and gimmicky. So if the White House had left his name out of the statement on negotiations, Manchin would absolutely have found something else to "explode" over.
In conclusion, sure Joe Manchin had a tantrum over the White House statement. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that he was ever really on board with Build Back Better, the end
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