The senator for West Virginia puts the White House’s star legislative agenda in danger.
The political drama this Christmas in Washington has a curious soundtrack, a sad duo sung by President Joe Biden and the Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin. Both politicians are engaged in a fight that has captured the attention of media and analysts, has the Capitol in suspense and threatens the future of the Build Back Better Act, the star plan in the president’s legislative agenda for social investment, which passed the Congress on Nov. 19 by 220 votes in favor and 213 against. During a news program last Sunday, Manchin announced what seemed to be the ultimate rupture: He will cast an opposing vote in the Senate. The plan includes an investment of $2.2 trillion.
The reason he gave at the time is the same he has given for months: So much spending will bring inflation, which is skyrocketing in the country and is one of its most pressing economic problems. This Monday, Manchin gave an interview on radio program MetroNews Talkline “The Voice of West Virginia.” And, as usual when one is at home, he became more confident: “You know me — always willing — to work and listen and try. I just got to the wits end and they know the real reason what happened. They won’t tell you and I won’t tell you.” To which host Hoppy Kercheval responded: ” … they’re not gonna tell us; you’re not gonna tell us. What do you mean? What’s the real reason?” ” … it’s staff. It’s staff-driven,” elaborated Manchin. He stated that the president and his staff are not the same thing, adding, “And they drove some things, and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is, and that’s it.”
Politico, a website which offers information on the details of power in Washington, tried to decipher those words with the following story: White House officials told Manchin last Thursday that the president was about to issue a statement advising of the delay on the vote on the social spending law, which would be postponed until early January. They also told him that his name would appear on that document, something the senator asked them to reconsider. According to Manchin, this tug-of-war, in which he has become the most controversial senator in the United States, has resulted in threats and harassment toward his family. He didn’t want to be targeted again. When he saw that the officials ignored his request, the senator ended the negotiation.
Manchin, the most Republican of the Democrats, a senator from a decidedly Trumpist state, spoke with Biden on Sunday afternoon after the former dropped the bomb on television. And after the White House had issued a statement in which press secretary Jen Psaki said: “Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.” According to Politico, the evening telephone conversation between the two politicians proceeded in a cordial tone and ended with an invitation to resume negotiations in 2022. The Capitol starts Christmas holidays this Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York) reacted on Monday with the announcement that the Build Back Better Act will be voted on at the beginning of the year, as will a law that seeks a better voting rights policy. This would come as soon as possible, so that every senator “has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television,” Schumer wrote in a letter to party colleagues, with a veiled reference to Manchin’s decision to attack the process in the media. For his part, Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont), who has publicly confronted Manchin for his indecision, added: “ … if he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.” The chamber is literally split between the two parties.
Manchin, 74, is linked to the coal industry, from which he receives large donations (also from the oil and gas industry). Biden’s plan, which aims to give the welfare state the biggest boost in half a century, includes a commitment for clean energy and prioritizes the fight against climate change. It also provides policies for education, subsidies for medicines, a strengthening of universal health care and a four-week maternity leave, which is still not covered by U.S. labor legislation. In its approval process, the plan’s budget has been significantly reduced from the initial proposal of $3.5 trillion.