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Democrats scramble to avoid electoral blowback after Manchin halts Biden agenda

It’s exactly the scenario Democrats had worked for months to avoid — but now find themselves confronting.

Vulnerable members were forced to cast a tough vote in an already daunting election year. And now, they are left with nothing to show for it.

With Sen. Joe Manchin effectively wielding a veto over President Joe Biden’s agenda, House Democrats are now fuming at the prospects that their vote last month to pass the Build Back Better bill will be all for naught, having made scores of promises to voters only to have them all go unfulfilled.

And Democrats in difficult races are calling on Manchin to return to the negotiating table and for their party’s leaders to recalibrate their strategy to find some way to pass individual pieces of the $1.75 trillion proposal, even though doing that would require sign off from Manchin and would force them to replay the party infighting that has dogged Biden in his first year in office.

“I’m obviously upset — pissed off about what happened,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who represents a New Jersey swing district. “We certainly are not going to win an election spending the next year bemoaning the fact that Joe Manchin didn’t do Build Back Better in December. We win by sprinting out of the starting gate in January.”

“I think it’s imperative that Democrats pass a measure to support children and families and the economic wellbeing of the American middle class and to take steps to address climate change,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat. “If we do nothing, it would be a terrible reflection on Democrats.”

And Phillips said his party needs to stop squabbling and instead coalesce around a new strategy to find consensus on some pieces of the legislation.

“If we continue to point fingers at one another, and not recalibrate, that’s a recipe for absolute destruction,” he said.

After the talks collapsed and led to a bitter round of finger-pointing, Manchin and Biden tried to cool tensions. They spoke by phone Sunday night and discussed reengaging on the matter in the new year.

Yet getting a scaled-back plan through Congress is hardly a guarantee — especially with the trust deficit at rock bottom.

“He simply can’t be trusted to be a man of his word,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said of Manchin.

There are clear signs that the party is hardly on the same page about how to move ahead. In a phone call Monday, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she conveyed her frustration directly to the senator — and she’s now calling on Biden to act administratively instead.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he will still put the $1.75 trillion bill on the floor in January, forcing Manchin to officially vote no to block the measure. It will take weeks to even get to that point to hold the first procedural vote, which is bound to fail, as Senate Democrats prepare to discuss the matter at a Tuesday night virtual meeting.

And Manchin is showing little interest in pushing through a narrower bill, arguing that Democrats should instead take their time and go through the committee process, something that could take months and ultimately would require the backing of 10 Republicans if they opt to go through the normal legislative order, as the moderate Democrat has been demanding.

All of which means Democrats could be faced with many more weeks of legislative squabbling and no bill to show for it.

“After months of negotiations, one Democratic US senator has now summarily walked away from productive negotiations,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat facing a difficult race. “That is unacceptable.”

Democrats believe there’s still time to reverse voter sentiment. And they plan to campaign heavily on approval of the sweeping $1.2 trillion infrastructure law — and the nearly $2 trillion in Covid relief package enacted in the spring — despite the failure to approve the Build Back Better measure.

“Voters make up their minds starting next summer,” Malinowski said, calling on Congress to also approve a bill aimed improving US competitiveness with China. “Infrastructure is a huge deal in New Jersey. There’s going to be so much money coming into my district from the infrastructure bill and what has already come via Covid relief.”

Of the larger package, the congressman added: “We haven’t not gotten it done yet.”


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