For months now, Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, has been hemming and hawing about how he could support Build Back Better. The omnibus bill would enact much of President Biden’s agenda, including battling climate change, reducing drug costs, and investing in child care. It would also provide tax refunds for some same-sex married couples.
Or more accurately, it would have. Yesterday, Manchin went on Fox News to kill the bill once and for all.
“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” Manchin said. “I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.”
Manchin cited a number of reasons for his opposition, including concerns about the deficit and its impact on energy infrastructure. (West Virginia is a major coal producer, and coal is hardly a green energy source.) Over the course of months of negotiations, Manchin had already objected to some tax increases on wealthy Americans, Medicare expansion to include hearing aids, and the temporary nature of some of the programs in the bill.
But what apparently sent Manchin into orbit was a fairly bland White House statement that he took as a personal affront. Last week, the White House said that the conversations with Manchin were ongoing and promising.
“In these discussions, Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September,” the statement from President Biden said. “I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition.”
For whatever reason, Manchin thought this was the height of “incivility” and a personal attack. Apparently, he didn’t like being singled out as if he was the only roadblock. (Krysten Sinema is equally intransigent.)
So Manchin responded by effectively sabotaging the Biden presidency. Republicans predictably cheered.
“I very much appreciate Senator Manchin’s decision not to support Build Back Better,” a thrilled Lindsey Graham declared.
Not satisfied with that accomplishment, Manchin is now complaining about being pressured to support Build Back Better. In a radio interview in West Virginia, Manchin groused about the way he was treated.
“They just never realized it because they figured, surely to God we can move one person,” Manchin said. “Surely we can badger and beat one person up, surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they’ll just say, ‘OK, I’ll vote for anything, just quit. Well, guess what, I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive. Period.”
This is a remarkable–and incredibly insulting–way of characterizing his conversations with President Biden, who has been open to Manchin’s suggestions and clearly negotiating in good faith. Manchin’s own comments suggest he never was.
As a nominal Democrat in a deep red state, Manchin is walking a fine line. By nature, he’s a lot more conservative than the average Democratic senator. Because the passage of a bill in the Senate hinges on a single vote, Manchin has tremendous power (as does Sinema.)
His willingness to exercise that power isn’t the first time it’s come at the expense of LGBTQ rights. His unwillingness to repeal the filibuster effectively sank the Equality Act. Not that it much mattered. He was already signaling he wouldn’t support it.
The measure became just one more victim of Manchin’s ongoing campaign to ensure Biden is just a one-term president.