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Tantrum: What Does the White House Gain By Lashing Out at Manchin?

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool

It's not like Team Biden will be relying on this particular Senator's vote to get literally anything, including executive and judicial confirmations, accomplished over the next year -- right?  On Thursday, I asked whether 'Build Back Better' was dead. My tentative answer was, in short, 'mostly.'  On Sunday, Joe Manchin appeared to answer that question rather emphatically: Yes, it's dead.  In an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News Sunday, the West Virginian came out as a firm "no" on Democrats' massive social spending package (he's also a no on changing the filibuster):


And lest there was any perceived wiggle room, Manchin then made his position even more explicit in a fairly lengthy written statement:

As Katie covered yesterday, the White House responded to this development with a scathing statement accusing Manchin of breaking his word.  It was an aggressive and strange move that seemed more like a frustrated tantrum than a strategic decision.  Politico offered some color on what led up to the Sunday morning explosion:

Less than 30 minutes before he killed the Democratic Party’s most important piece of legislation, an aide was dispatched by Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) to give the White House and congressional leadership a heads up. The senator himself was about to go live and was prepping for his interview with BRET BAIER on “Fox News Sunday.” He was out of town with family and doing the hit via satellite, but still had his best Sunday show attire. He wore a red tie and pin-striped suit. His hair looked perfect. It would probably be one of the most viral video clips of his long career. At the White House, there was panic and disbelief. He sent an aide to tell the president of the United States that he was about to go on Fox News and put a bullet in BBB? Top White House officials scrambled to call the senator and talk him out of what he was about to do. “We tried to head him off,” a senior White House official told Playbook, but Manchin “refused to take a call from White House staff.”...Manchin didn’t give Baier a heads up about the news he was about to break.

And on the fallout at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue:

In Congress, there was disgust among Democrats. “Manchin didn’t have the courage to call the White House or Democratic leadership himself ahead of time,” said one Democrat familiar with the morning’s drama. At the White House, the disbelief turned to a sense of betrayal...Psaki is calling Manchin a liar. Picking up the pieces from here won’t be easy. In fact, one senior Democratic aide texted us minutes after the White House press release came out with this assessment: “Whoever at the White House who thinks it’s a good idea to go scorched earth needs to be fired… He’s the president. He’s supposed to be the adult.”

Biden's team is claiming that Manchin had privately offered his own preferred proposal days prior, then walked away from it unexpectedly and killed the bill.  But Manchin has been very consistent about his concerns for months on end -- from deficits, to inflation, to budget gimmicks.  These are not new points.  Indeed, Manchin wrote down what he supported in a letter back in July.  Senate Majority Leader literally signed the document, acknowledging receipt of Manchin's formal position.  The House-passed legislation, packed with toxic provisions and flagrant gimmickry, was nowhere close to what Manchin had said he'd be willing to support.  To pretend that this was some stunning betrayal, or a reversal on Manchin's word, isn't true.  He hasn't been terribly ambiguous:


Nevertheless, the White House has opted for a frontal, aggrieved counter-assault, accusing the most influential Democratic Senator of bad faith.  Progressives are predictably fuming, as their oft-warned-about nightmare (pass infrastructure, then get nothing on BBB) has just played out before their eyes.  Bernie Sanders is demanding a floor vote, which some conservatives think would be a grand idea that would cause even more consternation among Democrats.  It's also amusing to see the likes of the Squad and Sanders pretending as though they have a better feel for West Virginians than Manchin does.  But for reasons I highlighted last week, there have to be some very unhappy 'moderates' in the House, but they have no one to blame but themselves for knuckling under to Pelosi's ill-conceived plan:


I think it's still possible that Democrats all cool down a bit, then revisit Manchin's must-have list next year.  They might decide that settling for a drastically pared-back bill (no longer BBB, really) is better than nothing.  But the personal ferocity with which the Biden crew attacked Manchin suggests that they may truly believe the whole enterprise is simply over and buried.  But even if that's true, it's still very foolish to assail a must-have Democratic vote in a 50-50 Senate.  They appear to have walked away from persuasion, opting instead to bludgeon him as punishment.  Mitch McConnell has recently played a bit coy about the possibility of Manchin flipping parties, amid Democratic jitters about the growing chuminess between the Kentuckian and West Virginian.  Is this really a smart moment to treat Manchin shabbily?

I'll leave you with this, on the subject of AOC, who is steaming mad over yesterday's announcement.  And yes, she did suggest that the 'something is better than nothing' argument was bunk:

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