Those comments prompted an immediate war with the White House, who took personal aim at Manchin for what officials saw as a breach of trust. White House press secretary Jen Psaki released an unusually blunt statement saying that Manchin’s comments “are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.”
In announcing his opposition, Manchin raised the same concerns about the bill that he’s had all along: inflation, rising debt and a mismatch between the package’s 10-year funding and its shorter-term programs. But until Sunday, Manchin had never taken a hard line on the legislation. In the past week, he’s spoken directly to Biden several times, with the president and other Democrats furiously lobbying him to support the bill.
With an evenly split Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs every Democrat to go along with the legislation, which only requires a simple majority vote. That dynamic gives Manchin enormous leverage over Biden’s agenda, allowing him to single-handedly sink a priority that Democrats have spent much of the year working on.
Manchin’s rollout on Fox News infuriated Democrats Sunday morning. Psaki said that the senator had brought Biden an outline of a bill similar in size and scope that “could lead to a compromise acceptable to all.”
“If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent 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,” Psaki said. “Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.”
And while the centrist senator’s staff informed White House and Democratic aides about his forthcoming blow to Biden’s agenda, some Democrats were steamed that Manchin himself hadn’t called Biden or Schumer.
“Manchin didn’t have the courage to call the White House or Democratic leadership himself ahead of time,” fumed one Democrat familiar with internal conversations.
While tempers flared on Sunday, the White House began privately and hastily exploring ways to keep the legislative initiative alive. A White House official told POLITICO that they feel there are critical elements of the social spending bill that must get done. They plan to continue talking with Manchin and to urge him to honor his previous commitments.