Democrats warn criticisms of Joe Manchin could derail future negotiations

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Multiple Democratic lawmakers are voicing concerns that White House and left-wing criticisms of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are counterproductive following his announcement that he won’t support the Build Back Better Act.

The Dems argue that the fiery rebukes aimed at the West Virginia centrist could hinder their ability to reignite negotiations on a social spending bill that can pass both chambers. 

Manchin’s comments on Fox New Sunday confirming he was torpedoing Senate Democrats’ hopes to pass the roughly $2 trillion measure aimed at tackling key components of President Biden’s agenda sparked strong backlash from within the administration, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki releasing a statement alleging his remarks “represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position.” Multiple prominent far-left lawmakers went as far as accusing him of being “betraying” his vow to negotiate in good faith, with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) telling reporters on Monday that it’s “abundantly clear that we cannot trust what Senator Manchin.” calling for Biden to unilaterally act on components of the bill. 

But vulnerable Democrats argued that despite the sizable roadblock the bill faces, it’s still possible for them to come to an agreement on a scaled-back measure.

One moderate Democrat noted that Manchin never agreed to support the parameters of the House-passed legislation, with the senator having repeatedly expressed reservations about certain provisions and its impact on inflation. 

“I’m disgusted, frankly, with those who believe that the path forward is to condemn him into submission — it’s a path destined to fail and will only harden his heart and result in absolutely nothing,” the lawmaker told The Post. “And I know I speak for many, probably an overwhelming majority of Democrats in the caucus that are disappointed, I think for good reason, but that are pragmatic enough to recognize that his vote is the only one that matters right now.”

The lawmaker acknowledged that political ramifications of the bill stalling in the Senate is an area of concern for frontline Democrats in the House, with the source adding they believe most members stand by their votes, the risk they took by supporting the measure should incentivize the party to continue working toward an agreement members can tout back home. 

“It’s hard to have a conversation without injecting politics into it — of course frontliners are terribly disappointed for having taken a vote that could cost many other jobs and not even have it result in anything meaningful, of course a terrible disappointment,” the member added. “It’s more of an incentive, frankly, to continue, which I think will actually inspire many to find a path forward.“

Former CPC chairman Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told The Post he believes Democrats “have to keep the dialogue open” and understand Joe Manchin's and others differences.
Former CPC chairman Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told The Post he believes Democrats “have to keep the dialogue open” and understand Joe Manchin’s and others differences.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Another Democrat said they feel Manchin’s decision to announce his position on TV was poorly handled, but feels the heated accusations being launched at the senator are not a productive solution. 

“We were never going to see the House-passed BBB pass the Senate in the same form, some people wanted to believe that would somehow be the case, but it never was going to happen. We should have known that given that it wasn’t a pre-conference/pre-Byrded version,” the source said, adding that “claiming ‘we promised people XYZ’ is not a compelling argument” to change Manchin’s mind. 

“Lots of people campaigned on lots of different things. Why would Senator X find that compelling if he didn’t campaign on or ever say he supports those things? Typically speaking, I don’t think that calling people liars is the best starting point for continuing productive negotiations.”

One source close to Manchin’s thinking agreed with the sentiment that “the attacks aren’t helpful,” adding he has been consistent in his position on the bill, pointing to the signed memo provided to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) outlining his topline number. 

But members of “the squad” — some of which withheld their votes on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIF) in fear of losing leverage on the larger spending bill, urging leaders to keep the bills paired — argue they warned that the passage of the “hard infrastructure” bill would lead to the death of the BBB that bears any semblance to its current form. 

“When a handful of us in the House warned this would happen if Dem leaders gave Manchin everything he wanted 1st by moving BIF before BBB instead of passing together, many ridiculed our position. Maybe they’ll believe us next time,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted. 

Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill — many of which faced backlash from former President Trump and his allies after critics accused them of paving the way for Democrats to pass the larger spending bill, with some going as far as calling for primaries and removal from committee assignments — have been quick to take credit for helping tank the bill, agreeing with progressives sentiments that the BIF killed the BBB. 

“Taking away the far-left’s leverage to ram through their spending wishlist is one of the many reasons I supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will create jobs in Central New York and make our businesses more competitive,” Rep. John Katko (R-NY) told The Post. 

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis said AOC and The Squad made it "very clear" about their opinions on infrastructure.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis said AOC and The Squad made it “very clear” about their opinions on infrastructure.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

“With skyrocketing inflation, rising crime, and a crisis at our southern border, President Biden should take Senator Manchin’s decision as a reminder to prioritize the issues impacting American families, not Sen. Bernie Sanders’ socialist spending bill.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) told The Post “it worked out just as planned. AOC and the squad, they made very clear why they voted against infrastructure, because they thought it would mean that Bill Back Better would never pass, and I voted for infrastructure, No. 1, because it’s a good bill, and it’s real infrastructure, but No. 2  because I knew that it was gonna take away the socialist’s leverage to pass the bill back broke — it was a win-win.” 

Rep. Andrew Grabarino (R-NY) echoed his colleagues’ sentiments calling it a “perfect win” for his district. 

“I didn’t have a crystal ball, but my logic told me we’re removing the biggest leverage that progressives had on Senate Democrats, particularly Manchin,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus said, adding he believes if Democrats do go back to the bargaining table they are bound to pass something significantly smaller than if the bills had been linked. 

While Jayapal indicated to reporters that she has lost faith in negotiations with Manchin and feels the administration should act instead, former CPC chairman Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told The Post he believes Democrats “have to keep the dialogue open.”

“I understand that there are philosophical differences and we need to work to bridge those gaps to get something done,” he said.  “I’m committed to continuing engaging with the president and with Senator Manchin as I have over the last few months to figure out a way forward.” 

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