Sen. Joe Manchin delivered a potentially fatal blow to President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The conservative Democrat from West Virginia said he can no longer support the Build Back Better social spending plan, nor would he be in favor of changing filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation.
“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t,” Manchin told host Bret Baier of Build Back Better. “I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. … This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.”
Build Back Better was the centerpiece of Biden’s domestic plans. Included in the bill were proposals to improve health care, fix immigration, help Americans with child care costs, and address climate change. And Manchin had been central to negotiations for the bill as Biden and Democrats have tried to convince him and another Democratic hold-out, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), to support the president’s legislative priorities.
Manchin also signals that he isn't in favor of changing the filibuster rules for voting rights. So that's basically it for Biden's agenda in this Congress. pic.twitter.com/wY87eWLBFy
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 19, 2021
The White House quickly labeled Manchin’s move as a stab in the back. “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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “On Tuesday of this week, Senator Manchin came to the White House and submitted—to the President, in person, directly—a written outline for a Build Back Better bill that was the same size and scope as the President’s framework, and covered many of the same priorities.”
“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,” she added.
Manchin and the party have engaged in talks since the summer as the senator insisted they lower proposed $3.5 million bill to $1.75 trillion, citing inflation concerns. That reduction was seen by many in the environmental movement as a potentially devastating blow to the planet; the original Build Back Better bill contained provisions viewed as a sort of last, best hope to keep global temperatures from rising too high, too fast. “Unless Manchin changes his negotiating position dramatically in the near future, he will be remembered as the man who, when the moment of decision came, chose to condemn virtually every living creature on Earth to a hellish future of suffering, hardship, and death,” author Jeff Goodell wrote in Rolling Stone at the time.
Now even that halfway measure appears to be on life support, if not dead entirely.
Progressives had feared Manchin would not support the social spending and climate package, which is why they tried to pass it before or in conjunction with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Manchin supported. By passing infrastructure, many of the left feared, Democrats had given up the only leverage they had on Manchin.
“Moving forward without the Build Back Better Act would put long-overdue investments in child care, paid leave, health care, affordable housing, pre-k, community college, climate action, and a roadmap to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS recipients, and essential workers at risk,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warned in September.
After Manchin pulled his support, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out the party for not listening to its progressive wing. “When a handful of us in the House warned this would happen if Dem[ocratic] leaders gave Manchin everything he wanted 1st by moving [bipartisan infrastructure] before BBB instead of passing together, many ridiculed our position,” she wrote on Twitter. “Maybe they’ll believe us next time. Or maybe people will just keep calling us naïve.”
Included in the bill was the bulk of Biden’s legislative agenda, and the president bet it all on his ability to convince Manchin to support its passage. Build Back Better would have been the largest investment in climate, shifting the U.S. to renewable resources, investing in public transit, and decreasing pollution in vulnerable communities. In addition to the significant investments to stave off climate change, the $1.75 trillion version passed by the House last month included provisions that would establish universal pre-kindergarten, build affordable housing, and allow four weeks of paid family and medical leave. Build Back Better would also extend the child tax credit, which would significantly reduce child poverty. And it would expand Medicare to include dental coverage, something West Virginians desperately need. One quarter of seniors in the state have no remaining natural teeth, the highest rate in the U.S., according to federal data analyzed by Kaiser Health News.
In a statement explaining his decision, Manchin mentioned he opposed the climate provisions in the bill related to clean energy. “The bill will also risk the reliability of our electrical grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains,” Manchin said. It’s worth noting here that Manchin owns millions of dollars in stock in Enersystems, a private coal brokerage he founded in 1988 that is run by his son.
Democrats had hoped to pass Build Back Better before the end of the year, but gave up that goal as talks continued through this month. Earlier this week, Biden signaled confidence in a potential deal. “In these discussions, Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September. I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition,” the president said in a Thursday statement.
But a CBS News source familiar with the talks painted a much more pessimistic picture, saying that the conversations between Biden and Manchin had been “going poorly” and that they were still “far apart.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tore into Manchin for his decision during an appearance on CNN. “Look, we’ve been dealing with Mr. Manchin for month after month after month. But 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,” Sanders said.
“I think he’s gonna have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia,” Sanders said.
More Bernie Sanders on Manchin: "We cut childhood poverty by over 40%, an extraordinary accomplishment. Manchin doesn't want to do that? Tell that to the struggling families of West Virginia and America." pic.twitter.com/yw0mFlCJ0X
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 19, 2021