Democrats have spent the entire year trying to predict what Sen. Joe Manchin III would agree to, from private meetings at the White House last fall to more recent Zooms with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
They all appear to have made the same error: they heard the West Virginia Democrat’s pleasant tones in their private conversations but discounted his pessimistic comments in public as standard negotiating ploys.
Rather, Manchin is the unusual politician whose public statements—whether they are made in brevity in a Capitol hallway or the form of elaborately prepared statements—carry more weight than anything he confides to his colleagues in private.
This reality was abruptly brought back into focus late on Thursday when Tony Romm and Jeff Stein of The Washington Post reported that Manchin had informed Schumer he could no longer support significant portions of their upcoming budget proposal that would address climate change and increase taxes on the wealthy.
Schumer and Manchin have been having one-on-one discussions for a few months now about a slightly condensed version of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, with a focus on a few health care issues, incentives to slow climate change, and higher taxes for the wealthy. After the disastrous conclusion of negotiations that Biden and his senior advisers had been leading with Manchin and other Democratic holdouts on the entire $2 trillion agenda last year, which included expanded child tax credits, universal pre-K education, and more, Schumer took on this task.
In the end, the newer Manchin-Schumer negotiations failed due to the centrist senator’s anxiety over the inflation’s escalating, just like those talks led by the White House. Democrats could accept a small deal now that would cut prescription drug costs and support health insurance premiums, as Manchin said Friday on a West Virginia radio show, or they could wait until September to see whether inflation had subsided enough for him to support a larger plan.
While some Democrats were furious on Friday, others claimed they had already learned their lesson.
After the House’s weekly session ended, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said, “It’s what, unfortunately, I saw back in December.”
In the late fall, Manchin had several private conversations with Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, regarding his support for the BBB agenda. She left believing him and backed a bipartisan infrastructure plan for $1 trillion that her caucus felt was insufficient to address climate change, but she trusted Biden’s assurance that he would deliver Manchin for the more ambitious legislation.
After Biden had ratified the bicameral legislation a few weeks later, Manchin abandoned the larger agenda.
She was therefore unsurprised.
Manchin “is not an honest negotiator,” Jayapal claimed. someone who repeatedly demonstrates his lack of interest in advancing the Democratic Party’s agenda while lying to his president about his willingness to get something done.
Another prominent Democrat pleaded for the confidentiality of all of these discussions.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richie Neal (D-Mass. ), believes that the ongoing effort to negotiate in public in the Senate is the root of the problem. We’re close to a deal, we have a deal, we’re on the verge of a deal, we’re close to a deal, and then it falls apart, according to the public commentary.
Manchin, however, frequently lets other negotiators hear what they want to hear in private. To build what ultimately proves to be false momentum for the really big deal, he talks positively about some proposals and expresses a desire to reach an agreement.
After those meetings, Manchin continued to give more objective assessments of the situation in the hallways.
His remarks to the media on Wednesday, following the most recent blistering inflation report that revealed prices were still rising, hinted that he would only support the most minimal of measures on Thursday.
“I’m extremely careful. Manchin told reporters that day, “And I’m going to make sure that I have every input on removing everything humanly possible that could be considered inflammatory.
After that inflation report, he claimed it wasn’t “any tougher” to reach an agreement because it only confirmed his long-held concerns.
“I was discussing inflation before it was even considered. I’m worried more than ever right now,” he told the media.
The frameworks for several significant bipartisan proposals that the Senate has seen over the past two years—on infrastructure last year, on gun violence in June, and pandemic relief in December 2020—were negotiated by ad hoc groups.
Manchin participated in all of those negotiations, but he was never the leading Democrat who sealed the deal.
The majority leader took on the “good cop” persona as the Schumer-Manchin negotiations heated up and expressed continued optimism. Because of this, other senators, staff members, and lobbyists involved in the legislation began to believe that a deal would be reached by the end of July, which fueled a steady stream of media reports supporting this belief.
Late in June, Schumer told reporters, “Very good and productive discussions,” before adding a crucial qualification. However, some problems still need to be resolved.
Through a staff statement that both sides interpreted however they wanted, Manchin responded to Schumer’s assertions: The senator “continues to engage in respectful discussions about the best way to move our country forward but is still seriously concerned about harmful inflation taxes hurting Americans,” according to the aide.
Optimists observed him leaning in and reasoned that Manchin was merely using negotiating strategies to gain leverage by saying he was “seriously concerned.” Realists like Jayapal had a lot of second thoughts about that.
She told the media on Friday, “I’ve said show me a deal all along.
On July 7, Manchin was forced to make a formal statement to temper expectations. At the time, a representative for Manchin, Sam Runyon, said: “Suggestions that a reconciliation deal is close are false.” There is much work to be done before it is conceivable that a deal can be reached because Sen. Manchin still has significant unresolved concerns.
Even as Manchin was under quarantine at home in New York after contracting the coronavirus, Schumer planned calls and video meetings with him because he remained persistent and thought this week could result in victory.
Democrats must now choose between accepting the more limited, health-care-only agreement or waiting another six to eight weeks to see if inflation slows down enough to meet Manchin’s requirements.
Some would rather accept any offer now than take the chance of not finding anything in September. We would have to take it immediately if we were to return to the altar without hearing “I do.” Neal said, “I’m willing to find out what the senator wants.
Manchin became weary of trying to guess which proposals he would back during a walking scrum with reporters on Wednesday: “That’s all. I’m through. I’m through. I’m through.
He stated it more succinctly on Friday’s West Virginia radio show: If you had just paid enough attention, you would have known that he was never that close to making a deal.
He stated, “I am where I have been.”