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'Who's he supposed to be afraid of?' Biden at legislative impasse with Manchin

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

“This is the system of government we have, and by nature of the breakdown of the Senate, those realities present constraints to the White House,” said Eric Schultz, a deputy White House press secretary for former President Barack Obama. “That said, there is no one who I think is better positioned to work this than Joe Biden, someone who understands the Senate, someone who understands the prerogatives of senators.”

The personal relationship between Manchin and Biden remains strong. The president, senator, and their senior staff remain in regular contact, and White House officials point out that on many issues — including the COVID-19 relief bill — the two men have been in agreement.

Manchin has also praised the White House repeatedly, saying in an interview last week that he had “never had an administration pay this much attention” to West Virginia.

Still, Biden appeared to express frustration at Manchin and another more centrist Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, during a speech earlier this month, explaining that he couldn’t get more done in Congress because of “two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.”

Since Manchin reiterated his opposition to the voting rights bill and ending the filibuster, other Democrats have been far more harsh, especially from the party’s liberal wing. One Democratic lawmaker likened the West Virginia lawmaker to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a comparison White House officials declined to embrace.

“We’re going to leave the name-calling to others,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “The president considers Senator Manchin a friend.”

The White House said that Biden appreciates Manchin’s support for past legislative initiatives.

“While they have different views on voting rights — which is a core priority for the President that he is pursuing forcefully — he has always believed it’s important to work well with colleagues regardless of disagreements,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates in a statement Thursday.


Psaki said the White House plans to “continue to seek ways we can work with Senator Manchin” even after they disagree on some issues.

Veteran lawmakers say criticizing Manchin in public is unlikely to convince him to change his position. But some of them say that criticism might be exactly what the senator wants, to prove his independence from the party’s liberal faction in an overwhelmingly Republican state where former President Donald Trump won by nearly 40 percentage points.

Even trying to strong-arm lawmakers in private can have little effect, they add.

“There’s always going to be some staffers along the way who’ll take the we’ll-show-him attitude. We’ll bring him around. We’ll sanction him,” said Ben Nelson, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska. “And in my opinion, that just doesn’t work”

He said that any threats could easily backfire on the party because Manchin knows how important it is for Democrats to keep that seat in West Virginia.

“Who’s he supposed to be afraid of?” Nelson said. “What are the sanctions? You keep holding out and we’ll take away your committees? Why would they want to do that? Do they want to strengthen the seat in West Virginia or drive it to the opposition party?”


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