What’s Joe Manchin Up To?

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September 2, 2021 5:31 p.m.

So what’s Joe Manchin up to? I don’t know exactly. It certainly sounds like he is threatening to upend the Democrats entire legislative agenda and probably doom Biden’s presidency in a bid to dramatically scale back the budget reconciliation bill. How much lower than $3.5 trillion that means I have no idea. But it sounds like he means by a lot? Down to $2 trillion, $1.5 trillion? This is a positioning statement, like basically everything Manchin does, and subject to haggling and negotiation, like every position he stakes out. But certainly progressives will refuse to vote for his prized bipartisan mini-bill if this is what he plans to do. And they’ll be right to do so. There was a cross party deal: both factions support both bills. So no reconciliation bill, no bipartisan mini-bill. No nuthin.

This, I believe, is a direct result of the generalized freakout over Afghanistan over the last three weeks. Less directly, it’s driven by the COVID resurgence. But it’s all the same difference. As we noted a few days ago, all political power is unity. You can’t look weak or unpopular or besieged on one front without having that impact your power on every other front.

Joe Biden looks weaker and more embattled today than he did a month ago. I don’t state that as what should be the perception or what’s based on the reality of the situation. But it is clearly the perception. Here perception is reality. And Joe Manchin is acting on that reality.

We’ve always known the next 6 to 8 weeks would be a trying period filled with drama and threats and high tension as the various factions of the Democratic party face off over the final scope of this legislative package. You have to keep that front and center in evaluating what Manchin is trying to do. But it’s a bad time for the president to be on ropes.

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