Biden's relationship with 'Joe-Joe' Manchin hits the rocks

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Joe Manchin
    United States Senator from West Virginia
  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

The relationship between President Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) didn't just hit the rocks on Sunday. It hit the kind of iceberg that sunk the Titanic.

On Monday, even as White House officials moved to lower the temperature in the simmering tensions triggered by Manchin's announcement of opposition to Biden's Build Back Better bill, there were real questions about whether the relationship could be saved.

For months, the two dealmakers have insisted that they had a good working partnership despite some policy differences. But the bitterness in a White House statement released Sunday under press secretary Jen Psaki's name was unmistakable, and it reflected hard feelings among Manchin's Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

It also reflected a feeling of betrayal in the White House, which had egg on its face after Biden effectively vouched for Manchin - and the likelihood of a deal on the climate and social spending bill - to get a bipartisan infrastructure bill out of the House.

Those progressives were furious at Manchin but also at the White House after the West Virginian's move.

The White House said Manchin had agreed to the basic outlines of a $1.75 trillion framework the White House unveiled in late October, and Psaki's statement said Manchin had gone back on his word.

Manchin on Monday disputed the claim that he strung Biden along, saying he made it perfectly clear to the president that he wasn't close to agreeing to any deal in the next few weeks.

"He knew it couldn't get there," Manchin said Monday, referring to Biden's statement last week that he was having "ongoing discussions" with the West Virginia senator and that "work will continue next week."

Manchin offered a small olive branch, however, by focusing his blame on White House staff instead of the president himself.

He seemed most infuriated by the White House leaking his demand that a one-year extension of the enhanced child tax credit be dropped from the bill.

"It's not the president. It's the staff. And they drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is. And that's it," he said.

Manchin on Monday accused the White House officials of retaliating against him by claiming that he backtracked on a promise made to Biden at his Delaware home in late October to support the $1.75 trillion framework and then misled them by pledging to continue to negotiate on the bill over the Christmas recess.

"Basically they retaliated. I figured they would come back strong," Manchin told West Virginia Radio host Hoppy Kercheval on Monday.

When asked about his retaliation comment, Psaki said the Sunday statement "was a statement of facts, of the events of what happened over the last few weeks, and it was simply an effort to make that clear to the American people."

"I can't speak for Sen. Manchin on what has upset him," Psaki said when asked if there was a misstep on the part of the administration. She also made it clear the White House wanted to try to salvage something, saying Biden considers Manchin a longtime friend and "that's really where we're coming at this from."

Biden, who is 79, and Manchin, who is 74, came of age politically in the same era - though Biden came to the Senate 38 years earlier than Manchin and left Congress before Manchin arrived.

Before the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden long had a reputation as a Democratic moderate - at least compared with his more liberal colleagues - and frequently pointed to his blue-collar roots in Scranton, Pa., a gritty railroad town that draws comparison to Manchin's hometown of Farmington, W.Va., where coal mining is the local industry.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) recently joked to reporters that Manchin "has his own parking space at the White House he's been there so often."

"I couldn't ask for Joe Biden to do more in his effort to find common ground with Joe Manchin," he said last week.

Biden even had an endearing nickname for Manchin: Joe-Joe.

Some progressive activists hoping to save Biden's agenda think the president can repair his relationship with Manchin though they acknowledge Build Back Better will need to be substantially modified.

"Manchin's statements [Monday] seem to indicate he doesn't have any grudge against the president. He's complaining more about staff, so that's a way of basically saying, 'Hey, Mr. President. I'm still willing to work with you,'" said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, which has advocated for raising as much revenue as possible to pay for Biden's priorities with changes to the tax code.

"Manchin's had bottom lines all along," he added. "It seems to me that Manchin's statement has been overread from ['Fox News Sunday']."

"There's no problem to getting to 'yes' on some version of the Build Back Better plan at $1.75 trillion," he argued. "They're serious about working together."

Indeed, Manchin said Monday that he shares Biden's desire to reverse parts of former President Trump's 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

"We have one chance at this, OK? We have a chance to fix the tax code that makes it fair and equitable. If you want to talk about income inequality, the reason there's income inequality is because the tax code allows it to happen. We have a chance to fix it. That was the only thing all the Democrats voted against ... in 2017," he said.

The White House on Monday said the president and Manchin are still friends while deflecting another question about whether Biden still trusts Manchin.

"He's worked with Sen. Manchin over the course of decades. They share fundamental values. They're longtime friends. That has not changed," Psaki said.

One Democratic strategist pointed to Biden's own silence on Manchin. After returning from Wilmington, Del., Biden on Monday dodged reporters gathered for his arrival on the South Lawn and had no public events on his schedule.

"They didn't put out a statement from Biden. The president didn't tweet about it. He hasn't spoken about it publicly. They're creating a little separation. It's political communication 101. That could give Biden some room to maneuver," the strategist said.

Psaki on Monday wouldn't give an update on when Biden will contact Manchin going forward and said she will keep private any updates on their engagements.

"Of course," Psaki said when asked if the White House will try to reach out to Manchin again, adding that the White House "absolutely" wants to keep working with him.

Former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who close friends with Manchin, said the West Virginia Democrat is "not a grudge guy" and was optimistic he and Biden will keep working together.

"My advice to the president: Remember this man is the consummate gentleman. Any rushed stuff will lock him in," Kirk said. "They will not be able to force him. Any forcing effort will have a deleterious effect."

"Joe puts one thing above most things, and that is decorum and politeness and integrity," he added.

Amie Parnes contributed.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting