Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he’s a no on the Build Back Better Act, effectively ending negotiations on this version of legislation that would expand the nation’s social safety net.
Manchin has always been a key holdout for the legislation, sharing concerns over certain provisions of the massive tax and spending bill and how it may exacerbate soaring inflation in the country.
“And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do. And the President has worked diligently. He’s been wonderful to work with. He knows I’ve had concerns and the problems I’ve had and, you know, the thing that we should all be directing our attention towards the variant, a Covid that we have coming back at us in so many different aspects in different ways, it’s affecting our lives again.”
Manchin’s support for the bill – a $1.9 trillion spending plan focused on expanding the nation’s social safety net, reducing Americans’ childcare and health care costs, and climate change – is necessary for Democrats to pass this legislation using a process called budget reconciliation, meaning it would only need 51 votes to pass.
In a statement his office released after the interview, Manchin reiterated he couldn’t support the legislation.
“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation,” he said in the statement.
A person familiar with the discussions between President Joe Biden and Manchin told CNN it was clear Manchin was headed in this direction as Biden privately told aides this week, he was no longer confident he could ultimately get the West Virginia Democrat on board. But White House officials were surprised when Manchin informed them Sunday morning he had already arrived at a final decision.
Their reaction was, obviously, not positive, according to the source. One senior administration official told CNN it was “totally a surprise.” Manchin informed the White House they were the first to know and he had not told even his staff yet.
The President learned his chief negotiating partner was pulling the plug from White House aides, who did not hear the news directly from the senator but from a member of his staff roughly 30 minutes before he went on air. Manchin wouldn’t take a call from White House staff who tried to reach him Sunday morning, according to a senior administration official. As of Sunday night, the two still had not spoken, according to a senior administration official.
Politico first reported about the White House’s attempt to reach Manchin to get him to reconsider.
In response to criticism from progressives that Manchin was holding up the bill because he wasn’t supportive, he said he supported holding a vote for the bill.
“Here’s the thing, when it’s time, just vote, I’ve been saying that. Just vote. If that’s what people need to show where they are, then vote,” he said on Fox News.
He added: “They’ve trying to make this adjustment, this adjustment, or just trying to make the adjustment for the time to fit the money or the money to fit the time, not changing our approach, not targeting things we should be doing. Making sure that people basically that truly need it are getting it. Making sure that we can do things in a much better fashion. We have things that we can do in a bipartisan way, the way the Senate is supposed to work if we’ll just let it happen. Just go through the committees, let’s work it.”
CNN has reached out to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for comment.
White House issues damning statement against Manchin
In a remarkable statement attacking a member of Biden’s own party, the White House said Manchin’s comments were “at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.” The statement gives what the White House claimed were details of Manchin’s discussions with the President; something the administration has been reluctant to do.
“On Tuesday of this week, Senator Manchin came to the White House and submitted – to the President, in person, directly – a written outline for a Build Back Better bill that was the same size and scope as the President’s framework, and covered many of the same priorities,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki wrote in the statement. “While that framework was missing key priorities, we believed it could lead to a compromise acceptable to all.”
According to Psaki, Manchin “promised to continue conversations in the days ahead, and to work with us to reach that common ground.”
“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,” Psaki said.
Psaki added: “Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” the statement reads.
How Manchin got there
Manchin had previously raised multiple concerns about the legislation, which passed the Democrat-controlled House last month. He wanted to pare down the bill in several areas, including paid family leave, a methane fee on emissions from energy producers and a Medicare expansion to cover hearing costs. He was also seeking changes to some provisions in the tax portion of the bill.
On the climate provisions in the legislation, Manchin had been negotiating for weeks with Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware. Sticking points have included when the program would start and when it would ramp up — as well as the levels of methane companies could emit before paying fees to the Environmental Protection Agency.
He said in his statement he was concerned about what the legislation would do to the nation’s electric grid.
“If enacted, the bill will also risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains. The energy transition my colleagues seek is already well underway in the United States of America,” he said in his statement. “In the last two years, as Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and with bipartisan support, we have invested billions of dollars into clean energy technologies so we can continue to lead the world in reducing emissions through innovation. But to do so at a rate that is faster than technology or the markets allow will have catastrophic consequences for the American people like we have seen in both Texas and California in the last two years.”
Manchin also was concerned about what the legislation would do to the nation’s rising debt and soaring inflation that came after Congress passed a sweeping stimulus bill earlier this year, as well as the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham requested the Congressional Budget Office analyze the Build Back Better Act if the programs in it did not sunset, but were extended for the full 10 years, which Republicans believed would show the true cost of the legislation. The CBO’s analysis of the hypothetical legislation said it would cost more than $5 trillion dollars over the course of 10 years.
Manchin objected to the structure of the bill, arguing Democrats were hiding the true costs of the bill by relying on temporary programs that will be extended year after year. He repeatedly has said he wanted to keep the price tag at $1.75 trillion but said including temporary measures – such as a one-year extension of an expansion of the child tax credit, which expires at this month’s end – is not “transparent” to the public about the impact it would have on federal spending.
In the end, this became one of the biggest concerns for Manchin and led to his decision.
“There’s a lot of good but that bill is a mammoth piece of legislation, a mammoth piece, and when it’s done even through regular order, it would be a tremendous, huge undertaking,” he said.
Graham praised Manchin for his decision to vote no in a statement Sunday morning.
“I very much appreciate Senator Manchin’s decision not to support Build Back Better, which stems from his understanding of the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the bill,” he said.
Progressives are not happy
Progressive independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont harshly criticized Manchin for revoking his support, saying “I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia” and calling on Democrats to put the bill to a floor vote to pressure Manchin into voting no on the record.
“I hope that we will bring a strong bill to the floor of the Senate as soon as we can and let Mr. Manchin explain to the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t have the guts to stand up to the powerful special interests,” Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday.
“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world,” Sanders added.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a progressive Democrat, echoed Sanders’ criticism of Manchin announcing he would not support BBB and said she supports Sanders’ call to take the bill to a floor vote to force Manchin to vote no on the record.
Pressley told CNN Sunday she had been skeptical the social safety net bill could pass because of Manchin, saying “he has continued to move the goalposts, he has never negotiated in good faith and he’s obstructing the President’s agenda.”
“We cannot allow one lone senator from West Virginia to obstruct the President’s agenda, to obstruct the people’s agenda,” Pressley said on “State of the Union.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Tapper in an interview Friday she expected this could happen, which is why they wanted a vote for both the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed earlier this year and the Build Back Better Act.
“This is what we feared. It’s why we tied the two bills together to pass them through the House,” she said Friday. “And we did take the President’s word that he would get 50 votes in the Senate.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Bernie Sanders’ political affiliation.
CNN’s Lauren Fox, Chandelis Duster, Aaron Pellish, Sarah Fortinsky, Kaitlin Collins and John Harwood contributed to this report.