Mar 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Inside Schumer and Manchin's secret Italian dinner

Illustration of salad ingredients forming a frowny face on a plate.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A private Italian dinner between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) did little to repair their differences over how Democrats can retain power in the Senate, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Schumer’s failure last month to convince Manchin to be more of a team player has implications for the leader’s ability to advance President Biden’s agenda, not to mention the fate of his nominees — as Fed hopeful Sarah Bloom Raskin discovered this week.

  • The two longtime friends, who use frank and colorful language with each other, successfully reset their strained relationship, Axios is told.
  • But their political dynamic remained unchanged.
  • Manchin is unwilling to forsake voter concerns at home in West Virginia for the good of the national Democratic Party.

Details: Inside the Trattoria Alberto, an Italian institution in a once unfashionable part of Capitol Hill, Schumer tried to persuade Manchin to stop slowing down their party's agenda in the Senate.

  • Manchin responded by telling Schumer he needed to be more persuasive, and that the burden was on the majority leader to allow the process to play out — and bring the entire Democratic caucus along.
  • The two senators dined alone and without staff.
  • The mid-February dinner was on the books before Axios reported the failed Build Back Better negotiations had left their relationship frayed.

What they're saying: “Sen. Manchin and Sen. Schumer had a friendly and productive conversation over a delicious dinner of spaghetti and meatballs,” said Sam Runyon, Manchin's communications director.

  • A spokesman for Schumer declined comment.

The big picture: While Schumer is his party’s Senate leader and controls the floor schedule, in a 50-50 Senate, an unbowed Manchin has exerted more power at times.

  • He first trimmed Biden’s Build Back Better proposal from $3.5 trillion to $1.5 trillion, before pronouncing himself a “No” on the package — effectively killing the ambitious social spending and climate legislation.
  • Last July, Manchin and Schumer signed a unique document, unveiled by Politico in late September, establishing Manchin’s top-line spending number at $1.5 trillion, the need to offset all new spending with fresh revenue and his concerns about inflation.
  • Manchin is now signaling an openness to a much smaller bill, but one that raises twice as much as it spends. Half of the new revenues would have to be dedicated to deficit reduction, which Manchin believes will help ease inflation.

The bottom line: Schumer knows he has to keep talking to Manchin if there's any hope of passing legislation to address climate change, lower prescription drug costs and shore up the Affordable Care Act, Axios is told.

  • Manchin will keep listening but needs to hear from the president that his concerns about inflation — and protecting West Virginia's energy industry — will be addressed.
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