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Tipsheet

Democrats Continue to Go After Each Other on Build Back Better

Screenshot via C-SPAN

There is perhaps no greater example of Democrats in disarray than everything to do with how they are handling Build Back Better. The legislation, a key part of President Joe Biden's agenda, died last December when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) came out against it. Yet his fellow Democrats are still clamoring to revive it, as if it has any life left to it at this point. Biden just last Thursday tried to encourage passage of the bill in the Senate, even quipping that Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), whose district he was visiting, should convince Manchin to get it passed. A deep dive piece from Eli Stokols and Jennifer Haberkorn with The Los Angeles Times reveals, though, that Manchin isn't the only one taking the blame.

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The piece, last updated on Saturday, involved several, mostly anonymous Democratic senators, so take what you will from that. It's pretty candid, though.

Early on the piece notes that "frustrated Democrats" blame "strategic blunders" from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. "The men too frequently sought to appease progressives and their allied groups while antagonizing the moderates needed to pass the legislation, known as Build Back Better, they say," the report reads. 

Yet after the bill failed, "Schumer and Klain doubled-down on the same strategy, pivoting to a quixotic showdown over voting rights that further alienated the moderate lawmakers they still need to revive at least part of the spending plan," the report continues. 

And it gets worse from there:

Those officials said the progressive-first strategy ultimately soured many Democrats on Capitol Hill on the ability of the White House and Schumer to rescue the social spending plan and has left them feeling rudderless as they seek a path to resurrect portions of the plan in a new bill. They described Klain and Schumer as particularly tight partners who speak several times a day, share a disinclination to delegate responsibilities to staff and have guided the Biden agenda in lockstep in recent months.

Recent developments have done little to reassure concerned Democrats. During a Zoom call last month with the four Democratic senators who have been the main proponents of extending the child tax credit, Klain insisted the administration was still fighting for it to remain in a salvaged version of the social spending plan.

Only days later, President Biden said publicly at a press conference what his chief of staff wouldn’t tell the lawmakers privately — that it was a component “I feel strongly about that I’m not sure I can get in the package.”

To some involved in the negotiations, the Zoom call and Biden’s reality check wasn’t just an episode of mixed signals. It was emblematic of the same magical thinking that characterized Klain and Schumer’s approach over the last several months — a faulty assumption they would eventually win over the moderate holdouts in their own party without scaling down their policy goals, which would have meant disappointing progressive lawmakers and activist groups but potentially securing the 50 Senate votes needed to pass the legislation.

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"They just won't take the hits," one Democratic lawmaker emphasized in response. "They tell everyone what they want to hear and they’re afraid to take the hits from activist groups, whether it’s on voting rights or other policy areas. And if no one is willing to take the hits, it’s anarchy."

Further insight points to how Sens. Manchnin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) got the blame, with one Democratic senator pointing out an approach about confused priorities shows the majority leader "can’t say no to anybody." The senator went on to say that "If you can’t make a decision [about what priorities matter most], then the path of least resistance is to let it fail and blame it on" the two moderates. 

The blame game path continues from there, with a Democratic senator calling that tactic "idiotic."

"So Manchin walked away [from Build Back Better] because the White House was putting too much of a spotlight on him — and your response to that is to lean in further on voting rights so that he, once again, is seen as the problem?” said one Democratic senator who called the strategy 'idiot,'" the report read. 

Manchin, along with Sinema, voted for legislation that amounts to the federal takeover of elections, as they had signaled beforehand they would. They were not, however, willing to vote to nuke the filibuster in order to get the legislation passed with a simple majority, a view they had also previously made clear beforehand. As a result, the effort tanked

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While Sinema has faced backlash, which included being censured by the Arizona Democratic Party and the loss of support from pro-abortion groups because she still supports the filibuster, Manchin last year saw a record high of donations in a non-election year. 

Despite any support Schumer may have for his handling of attempts to get legislation passed in a 50-50 Senate, the report notes that "many others in the party say the effort only made it harder to revamp Build Back Better because the experience further alienated Manchin, who has said he’s open to discussions but wants to first address inflation and the nation’s debt."

Though reporting also mentions that Manchin's office declined comment for the story, it does make note of how the senator has "reportedly told allies that a White House statement — authorized by Klain —attributing the lack of progress on the bill to him was his personal breaking point."

As Katie reported last December, shortly after Manchin came out against the bill, the White House released quite the stern statement about the moderate Democrat, lied about him, and then continued to do so

In public, other members of Democratic leadership aren't handling it too well either. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who also made laughable claims during her Sunday appearance on ABC's "This Week" that Democrats can "forget history" and win the midterm elections, took aim at Manchin

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When it comes to Manchin's concerns, Pelosi responded that "it's not right to say what we're doing is contributing to the inflation because it is exactly the opposite." Such has been an oft-repeated talking point from the administration and other top Democrats, though voters remain concerned about inflation when it comes to this bill. 

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