Sep 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden bombs with Manchin

Then-Vice President Biden is seen swearing Joe Manchin into the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden conducts a ceremonial swearing-in for Sen. Joe Manchin in 2010. Photo: Tom Williams/Roll Call

President Biden failed to persuade Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to agree to spending $3.5 trillion on the Democrats' budget reconciliation package during their Oval Office meeting on Wednesday, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Defying a president from his own party — face-to-face — is the strongest indication yet Manchin is serious about cutting specific programs and limiting the price tag of any potential bill to $1.5 trillion. His insistence could blow up the deal for progressives and others.

  • Axios was told Biden explained to Manchin his opposition could imperil the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that's already passed the Senate. Biden's analysis did little to persuade Manchin to raise his top line.
  • Manchin held his position and appears willing to let the bipartisan bill hang in the balance, given his entrenched opposition to many of the specific proposals in the $3.5 trillion spending package, Axios was told.
  • While the two left the meeting having made little progress, and are still some $2 trillion apart, the conversation was friendly and they agreed to keep talking.

What they're saying: "Sen. Manchin is an important partner," said Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary. "We do not discuss the contents of private meetings."

Flashback: In early March, with Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in danger of failing, he called Manchin and told him, “If you don’t come along, you’re really f**king me,” according to a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

Between the lines: While Biden has claimed he's pursuing a dual-track approach on the two spending bills, he's occasionally jumped tracks — like when he essentially threatened to veto the bipartisan transportation bill moments after endorsing it.

  • Two days later, Biden withdrew his threat and said in a statement that a veto threat “was certainly not my intent."
  • His latest comments to Manchin linking the two bills underscore a political reality on Capitol Hill: House progressives will sink the $1.2 trillion bipartisan transportation bill if Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) don’t agree to massive amounts of new spending in the reconciliation package.
  • Biden wants to use the Democrat-only reconciliation package to expand the social safety net as part of his Build Back Better Agenda.

The big picture: Biden predicated his presidency on his ability to appeal to Republicans and help heal the country.

  • He also counted on dusting off some signature Senate moves to convince his former Republican colleagues to help him usher in a new, post-Trump, bipartisan political world.
  • With the exception of a bipartisan China bill, the president has had little success persuading Senate Republicans to support his priorities. Opposition hardened after he jammed through a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill in March.
  • In recent days, Republicans seem even more recalcitrant, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisting Democrats raise the debt ceiling by themselves. and Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) all-but-freezing the Senate's confirmation process.

Go deeper: The White House said Thursday night the president spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about "their ongoing coordination and outreach around making the case for building an economy that delivers for the middle class."

Editor's note: This political affiliation for Sen. Mitch McConnell was corrected to show he's Republican.

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