White House officials stunned as Manchin ends Build Back Better talks with little warning

“We tried to head him off,” one official told POLITICO, but Manchin “refused to take a call from White House staff"

Published December 19, 2021 3:42PM (EST)

Joe Manchin and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Manchin and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin gave precious little warning to President Joe Biden before saying publicly during an interview that he would not support his signature Build Back Better bill, according to a new report.

The conservative West Virginia Democrat dispatched aides to give word of his impending announcement to the White House and Congressional leadership — giving both parties just 30 minutes of notice before saying on "Fox News Sunday" he would not vote for the $1.7 trillion social safety plan championed by Biden.

White House officials were privately stunned at the way things went down, according to POLITICO, and tried to "head him off," according to one unnamed source. He also "refused to take a call from White House staff" ahead of his appearance on Fox, the publication reported.

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Manchin also failed to tell fill-in host Bret Baier of the news he was about to break, catching the anchor by surprise when he said he "cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation."

"I've tried everything humanly possible," he added. "I can't get there."

To justify his decision, he cited a familiar list of opposition points:

Where I'm at right now, the inflation that I was concerned about, it's not transitory. It's real, and it's harming every West Virginian. It's making it almost difficult for them to continue, to go to their jobs. The cost of gasoline, the cost of groceries, the cost of utility bills, all of these things are hitting in every aspect of their life.

Then you have the debt that we're carrying, $29 trillion. You have, also, the geopolitical unrest that we have. You have the Covid — the [Omicron] variant — and that is wreaking havoc again, people are concerned. I've been with my family, I know everyone is concerned.

Manchin's colleagues blasted his decision to walk away from the negotiating table, citing his agreement to negotiate on a modified version of the bill in exchange for the passage of a $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill last month.

Let's be clear: Manchin's excuse is bullshit," Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., wrote on Twitter Sunday. "The people of West Virginia would directly benefit from childcare, pre-Medicare expansion, and long term care, just like Minnesotans."

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"This is exactly what we warned would happen if we separated Build Back Better from infrastructure," she added.

In an interview on CNN, fellow Sen. Bernie Sanders echoed those points, saying Manchin "doesn't have the guts to stand up to powerful special interests."

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki later addressed the Administration's disappointment with Manchin for reneging on his promises to negotiate "in good faith."

If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator's colleagues in the House and Senate.

In the meantime, Sen. Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine. He will have to explain to the nearly two million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work why he opposes a plan to get them the help they need. Maybe Sen. Manchin can explain to the millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax Credit, why he wants to end a program that is helping achieve this milestone — we cannot.

Despite the forcefully worded statement, White House officials apparently aren't quite ready to declare negotiations dead yet — though it's unclear what could convince the conservative Democrat to come back to the negotiating table. 

"Look, with Manchin you never know," another senior level official told POLITICO. "I've never seen anything like this … The guy shook hands with the president. He made us a written offer on Tuesday that had holes but was doable. If he flipped away from that so quickly, maybe he can flip back."

By Brett Bachman

Brett Bachman was the Nights/Weekend Editor at Salon.

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