White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said that the Biden team is in “close touch” with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) after he expressed his frustration over an interview that Vice President Kamala Harris conducted with a local television station last week to promote President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
Manchin, a conservative Democrat who will be a key vote in the passage of a COVID-19 relief package, expressed his dismay over Harris’ interview in an interview with WSAZ in West Virginia, the same station that the VP’s interview aired on.
Manchin suggested that the Biden administration did not alert him ahead of time, and he said that Harris’ interview goes against the President’s calls for bipartisanship.
“I saw it. I couldn’t believe it. No one called me,” Manchin said in response to Harris’ interview. “We’re going to try to find a bipartisan pathway forward. I think we need to, but we need to work together. That’s not a way of working together, what was done.”
On Monday, Psaki was asked during a briefing on whether the White House reached out to Manchin to clear the air. Psaki said that the White House plans to “remain in close touch” with Manchin as pressure mounts for a COVID-19 relief deal to be reached.
“We’ve been in touch with Sen. Manchin, as we have been for many weeks, and will continue to be moving forward,” Psaki said. “And not only is he a key partner to the President and to the White House on this package, but on his agenda. We will remain in close touch with him.”
Asked later in the briefing if Harris’ interview with a West Virginia television station was part of a White House strategy to put pressure on lawmakers to support Biden’s America Rescue Plan, Psaki wouldn’t answer the question directly.
“The bottom line is our focus is communicating with the American people about how the American rescue plan can help put food on the table, can help ensure we can get vaccines in the arms of Americans and help send kids back to school,” Psaki sad. “That’s our overarching objective with all of the communications we do.”
Pressed on whether Biden personally spoke with Manchin, Psaki reiterated that the White House is “certainly in touch” with Manchin and “will continue to be.”
“He’s an important partner as we look to move forward on this package and, of course, all the President’s agenda,” Psaki said.
CNN also reported on Monday that the White House called Manchin following Harris’ interview with West Virginia media. Manchin’s press secretary, Sam Runyon, confirmed to TPM that the White House reached out to the senator, but declined to provide further details on the call.
Earlier Monday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) urged Congress to go big on the COVID-19 relief package by dismissing the notion of being “fiscally responsible” in a time when many Americans are struggling to get by, during an interview on CNN.
“We need to understand that trying to be, per se, fiscally responsible at this point in time with what we’ve got going on in this country — if we actually throw away some money right now, so what?” Justice said. “We have really got to move and get people taken care of and get people back on balance.”
Asked about his thoughts on Manchin’s skepticism about the benefits of a new round of stimulus checks, the West Virginia governor claimed that he has not talked directly to Manchin recently.
“I don’t really know exactly what he thinks that could possibly be there,” Justice said. “I mean, we got people that are really hurting. I mean that’s just all there is to it.”
Watch Psaki’s remarks below: