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Blame Game: Progressives Claim McAuliffe Lost Because of Manchin and Sinema Holdouts

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

With Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe failing to win Tuesday night's Virginia gubernatorial election to once more lead the commonwealth, there was surely going to be some of the blame game going around. One theory is that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are to blame for not getting President Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda passed soon enough. As of Thursday night, it's been set up for a House vote on Friday morning though that, of course, could always change, just as it has for months now.

Newsmax's John Gizzi on Wednesday highlighted a statement from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which was also shared to Twitter. 

"More Virginians would have voted Democratic if they had child care and if Democrats had accomplished what we promised for years: lower-price prescriptions, paid family leave, long-term care for the elderly, and vision and dental care paid for by taxing billionaires," the statement read in part.

Reports abounded when it comes to Democratic fears following the Virginia losses. Not only did McAuliffe fail to become Virginia's governor once again after serving from 2014-2018 when his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin won, the Republican candidates, Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares also won their respective races for lieutenant governor and attorney general. The GOP also took control of the House of Delegates.

Wednesday and Thursday were news days full of Democrats playing the blame game. 

One such Thursday piece from The Hill, by Hanna Trudo, read that "Progressives declare victory in spending bill fight." When it comes to "victory," progressives have been consistent with their firm stance that the infrastructure and reconciliation spending bills be voted on together. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has maintained that there are enough progressives to defeat the infrastructure bill if they don't get their way. 

From Trudo's piece:

But progressives are arguing there are other reasons for McAuliffe’s defeat, and that the degree to which inaction in Congress contributed is not just because the left demanded movement on Biden’s social spending agenda.

They note Manchin and other moderates were slow to negotiate on that more expansive legislation, which held up a deal. If anyone is to blame for the gridlock, it is these centrists, they argue.

“Psychologically, it’s moderates in denial. That’s what they have to do to defend their inaction in Congress,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution.

A particularly memorable POLITICO Playbook edition came on Wednesday, "Let the Democratic freakout begin." Sens. Manchin and Sinema found their way in there:

VIRGINIA BLOWBACK — The finger-pointing over McAuliffe’s loss has already started on Capitol Hill. Some Democrats are blaming progressives: McAuliffe himself warned Democratic leaders that they needed to pass the BIF to turn out the base — only Speaker NANCY PELOSI couldn’t get the votes to do it due to opposition on the left. And progressives are pinning blame on moderates, arguing that MANCHINEMA’s obstructionism has thwarted a Democratic legislative victory.


We’ll be watching today for whether Democrats have the same contradictory takeaways, with moderates arguing that their massive agenda is turning off swing voters while progressives say they need to go bolder to excite Democratic voters.

2) How will this affect reconciliation talks? We see two possibilities: A) That the loss in Virginia will light a fire under Democrats, providing the urgency they needed to get Build Back Better over the finish line. That’s what Chris Cadelago, Laura Barrón-López and Natasha Korecki report Democrats are vowing this morning. Or B) It triggers a whole new round of infighting, as progressives push to go bigger and moderates slimmer.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats from Virginia, blame McAuliffe's loss on the agenda items not passing. As Trudo's piece also read:

Centrists who had argued it would have made more political sense to pass the infrastructure bill weeks ago to boost Biden and Democratic candidates said the election losses were proof they were right.

“Mark and I told the caucus that this would happen if we didn't act promptly, and it has in fact happened,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters this week, referencing Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D), as reported by NPR.

“I mean, only in Washington could people think that it is a smart strategy to take a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure and prevent your president from signing that bill into law,” Warner said this week.

In an interview last month with the Associated Press, McAuliffe was clear that he wanted Congress to pass the legislation:

Despite the outside support, McAuliffe has been deeply frustrated by his party’s inability to fulfill key campaign promises since taking control of the White House and both chambers of Congress in January. In Tuesday’s interview, the 64-year-old lamented the Democrats’ inability to protect voting rights against a wave of Republican-backed legislation, but he saved his sharpest comments for the stalled federal infrastructure package.

“They all got to get their act together and vote,” McAuliffe said. Asked specifically if he was calling out Biden, McAuliffe said, “I put everybody there.”

McAuliffe’s frustration underlies a bigger concern for Democrats nationally entering the first midterm election season of the Biden presidency. The president’s approval ratings are sagging, and there are signs in Virginia and elsewhere that rank-and-file Democrats aren’t energized to vote.


On the debt limit, voting rights and the infrastructure package, McAuliffe said Democrats should do “whatever it takes to get it done.”

“They got to get their work done. People are counting on them. Do your job. I don’t care what you call it or what mechanism you use,” he said. “I’m for doing whatever the Senate has to do to pass meaningful legislation that will move this country forward.”

That interview led Vanity Fair's Eric Lutz to go with his headline that "EMBATTLED DEMOCRAT TERRY MCAULIFFE IS BEGGING BIDEN TO GET HIS S--T TOGETHER."

As Jon Brown reported for Fox News, Biden sort of danced around the issue when asked if there was some responsibility for McAuliffe's loss with failure to get the legislation passed. "Well, I think we should have and should have passed before Election Day, but I'm not sure that I would be able to have changed the number of very conservative folks who turned out in the red districts who were Trump voters," he said. The president went on to offer "But maybe, maybe."


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