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Inside the Manchin Blow Up

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December 20, 2021 1:52 p.m.

We’re getting a bit more sense here of the final blow up that led to the demise of the BBB. Apparently the real blow up was that the White House put out a statement last week in which the President said he believed he was making progress on finalizing a Build Back Better deal with Joe Manchin. The key apparently was that he named Manchin specifically rather than Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema or Manchin and the rest of the caucus or whatever else.

In other words, in what was actually a positive and cordial statement, Biden pointed to Manchin by name, kinda sorta implicitly saying that Manchin was the hold up but that he was optimistic they’d get to a deal. This apparently set Manchin off and led him to torpedo the negotiations and basically the President’s whole domestic agenda. How do we know this? Steven Clemons goes into the details here and Clemons is very close to Manchin.

As Clemons explains, Manchin saw his being named in the statement as “a breach of process, a breach of spirit, a breach of Joe and Joe working this out.” He seems to believe it was Biden’s staff rather than the President himself who committed the lapse. This is what Manchin was apparently referring to this morning when he told a West Virginia talk radio station: “They drove some things, they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable.”

The level of pettiness on display here may be difficult to comprehend or believe. But as far as it goes I do believe it.

But the big picture is the important one to understand. For almost a year Manchin has strung his caucus and President Biden along, changing his positions, changing his rationales, being cagey about what he supported or what he would do. He’s strung them along and forced them to play the fool, repeatedly, while being entirely indifferent to the impact of his own actions on the political standing of his colleagues or their deeply held views.

Manchin doesn’t owe anyone his vote. But someone in his position owes the members of his caucus and a President of his own party a strong good faith effort to get to yes, to be candid, not to embarrass or humiliate his colleagues. He failed to do any of those things. And in his mind it was basically fine to put everyone through the wringer. But the first time the White House gave even the most delicate push back Manchin went berserk and blew everything up. That’s petulant and petty and just pathetic. And yet he has the vote. It’s in his power to do.

Manchin has been stringing this out intentionally for months. The deadlines and urgency were meaningless to him. As the President’s popularity dimmed he became more recalcitrant, throwing up a parade of contradictory and often nonsensical objections. The alternative to this was perpetual and indefinite coddling with no end in sight.

None of this changes the reality of the demise of serious climate action or a refundable child tax credit or universal pre-K or a bunch of other things. But it does illuminate the last year and makes clear that “getting tough” on Manchin wasn’t really a tool the White House had in its arsenal. Just putting out a press release that named him and made him feel bad and somehow made him think people would blame him for what was happening made him go postal. The only real argument here is whether the process of coddling Manchin starting in the first weeks of Biden’s presidency helped nurture and fructify the tender sapling of clinical thin-skinnism that has grown into this tall and broad oak tree of snowflakery we see on display today.

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