Joe Manchin pledges to block Biden's infrastructure bill if Republicans aren't included

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), America's ultimate swing voter, told me on "Axios on HBO" that he'll insist Republicans have more of a voice on President Biden's next big package than they did on the COVID stimulus.

The big picture: Manchin said he'll push for tax hikes to pay for Biden's upcoming infrastructure and climate proposal, and will use his Energy Committee chairmanship to force the GOP to confront climate reality.

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Why it matters: My conversation yielded the most extensive preview yet of how Manchin — a Democrat from a Trump state, in a 50-50 Senate, who relishes standing up to a Democratic White House — will use his singular power.

  • Manchin, 73, said Biden expects, and understands, the pushback: "He's the first president we've had to really, really understand the workings of the Senate since LBJ."

Manchin said that with just a few concessions, it would have been possible to get some Republicans on the COVID relief package that passed the Senate this weekend on a party-line vote. And he said he'll block Biden's next big package — $2 trillion to $4 trillion for climate and infrastructure — if Republicans aren't included.

  • "I'm not going to do it through reconciliation," which requires only a simple majority, like the COVID stimulus, Manchin said. "I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start trying."

  • Asked if he believes it's possible to get 10 Republicans on the infrastructure package, which could yield the 60 votes needed under normal Senate rules, Manchin said: "I sure do."

Manchin said the infrastructure bill can be big — as much as $4 trillion — as long as it's paid for with tax increases. He said he'll start his bargaining by requiring the package be 100% paid for.

  • Manchin said that with all the debt we're piling up, he's worried about "a tremendous deep recession that could lead into a depression if we're not careful. ... We're just setting ourselves up."

  • He talked up an array of tax increases, including raising the corporate tax rate from the current 21% to 25% "at least," and repealing "a lot of" the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy.

Manchin, sitting down with HBO in the Energy Committee hearing room where he now holds the gavel, said he'll use his new position "to try and inject some reality" — starting with a hearing "on climate facts."

  • Asked about Republican senators who won't say that humans have affected climate, Manchin said: "Well, I think I think they know it."

Manchin warned fellow Democrats about ramming through legislation by simple majority: "I would say this to my friends. You've got power ... Don't abuse it. And that's exactly what you'll be doing if you throw the filibuster out."

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