During an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier and in a statement blasted out to reporters, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Sunday he could not support the current version of the Build Back Better Act being considered in the Senate.
“Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation,” he said in his statement.
“You’re done? This is a no?” Baier asked him on Fox News Sunday.
“This is a no on this legislation,” Manchin replied.
The mid-December declaration caps a frustrating year of negotiations between Manchin, fellow centrist Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and much of the rest of the party. Progressive Democrats in the House allowed another bill, the bipartisan infrastructure effort, to advance in November, despite misgivings about Manchin and Sinema, hoping that President Biden would be able to get the two holdout senators to yes on the larger budget reconciliation package.
The Build Back Better Act contains an extension of the Child Tax Credit that in 2021 lifted millions out of poverty, other social safety net programs, and hundreds of billions of dollars for addressing climate change.
Many Democrats saw the legislation as their last, best chance to address these priorities before the 2022 midterms, when they look likely to lose control of one or both chambers of Congress. After that, it could be years before Democrats have control of Congress and the White House again.
The White House, in a statement released hours after Manchin’s comments, implied that the senator had not been engaging in discussions with President Biden in good faith. If Manchin’s statement meant that he was abandoning negotiations now, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, it represented “a breach of his commitments to the President and the senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”
“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,” Psaki wrote. “Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework ‘in good faith.'”
“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. While that framework was missing key priorities, we believed it could lead to a compromise acceptable to all,” Psaki continued.
In the Fox interview, Manchin objected to the size of the national debt and to a series of problems that do not directly relate to the Build Back Better Act but have had an impact on the President’s poll numbers: “inflation,” “geopolitical unrest,” “the COVID variant.”
“So when you have these things coming at you the way they are right now,” he continued, “I’ve always said this, Bret. If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it.”
Outcry from progressives was quick.
“We’ve been dealing with Mr. Manchin for month after month after month,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), an architect of early versions of the reconciliation package, said on CNN. Sanders called for a vote on the package anyway.
“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,” he said.
“We all knew that Senator Manchin couldn’t be trusted,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a leading member of the House progressive caucus, said on MSNBC soon after. “The excuses he just made, I think, are complete bullshit.”