For Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), killing Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) permitting reform bill was personal.
McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, looked like he’d been hoodwinked when Manchin announced a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Inflation Reduction Act.
Sixteen Republicans had just backed a major semiconductor bill — thinking the sweeping tax, climate and health care legislation Democrats had been trying to pass for more than a year was dead. McConnell had vowed to withhold GOP support from the semiconductor legislation, also known as the CHIPS bill, if the larger measure moved forward.
Instead, just hours after the Senate’s passage of the semiconductor legislation, Manchin and Schumer announced a deal that would pave the way for passage of the Inflation Reduction Act — the biggest legislative agenda item on the Democratic docket.
It was a political blow to McConnell, and his GOP critics would pounce.
“Mitch McConnell got played like a fiddle with the vote today by Senate Democrats,” former President Trump, McConnell’s biggest critic in the Republican Party, wrote on Truth Social after the bill’s passage.
McConnell, always seen as a savvy Washington insider, had suffered a major strategic defeat.
But he would get his revenge.
GOP senators say McConnell felt Manchin had misled him about the state of Democratic negotiations on the larger measure. He told them that it would be totally inappropriate to reward Manchin by giving him the votes he needed to pass a permitting reform bill.
“[McConnell] said the idea that we would bail him about after he lied to us, he lied to me — he made it very personal — I hope no one is considering that,” one Republican senator told The Hill, referring to a conversation at a GOP senators’ lunch last month.
At the lunch, the senator said McConnell instructed GOP senators not to reward Manchin’s vote.
“He was pretty direct,” the lawmaker added.
Republican strategists say that McConnell had to hold Manchin accountable if he thought the West Virginia senator had assured him that increasing taxes was off the table before a key vote on the semiconductor bill.
“Manchin is in the wrong here because the Senate is a small, clubby atmosphere. When you give your word to a senator, that’s considered your bond,” said Brian Darling, Republican strategist former Senate aide. “It was a very high-profile non-keeping of commitment.
“The evidence all points to the fact that Manchin was not honest with McConnell, so McConnell is right to block his bill,” he added. “McConnell is well within his rights to get retribution on Manchin if it’s true that Manchin lied to his face. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.”
Publicly, many Republicans have pointed to policy reasons for why the Manchin bill failed.
Republican senators and aides said Manchin’s permitting reform bill was too weak and never would have gotten support from a majority of Senate Republicans.
But it had a good chance of getting the 12 or so Republican votes it needed to pass the Senate if McConnell hadn’t put his thumb on the scale to tip it decisively against Manchin. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading business group, had endorsed Manchin’s bill.
McConnell had promised to block the semiconductor bill as long as Manchin and Schumer were working to pass a tax bill through Congress with only Democratic votes.
“Let me be perfectly clear: there will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill,” McConnell tweeted on June 30.
McConnell told Republican senators that Manchin had assured him that tax hikes were off the table before he gave his conference the green light to vote for the semiconductor bill, according to GOP senators and aides.
“I do know that back during CHIPS that McConnell did say that he had assurances from Manchin” that the tax talks were over, said a Republican aide. “Manchin says what he thinks people want to hear. McConnell heard what he wanted to hear.”
Manchin unveiled his deal with Schumer only hours after 16 Republican senators, including McConnell, voted to pass the CHIPS bill.
A key part of the deal was Schumer promised to put Manchin’s permitting reform bill on must-pass legislation coming to the floor before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
McConnell was determined to stop Manchin from getting that pay-off.
The GOP leader had told his colleagues on several occasions that collaborating with Democrats on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021 had taken the political momentum out of President Biden’s tax and climate agenda.
For much of 2022, it appeared McConnell was right. Talks between the White House and Manchin on the larger legislation fell apart in December. There didn’t appear to be any further negotiation or progress between Schumer and Manchin for the first few months of 2022.
And the talks that eventually started in the spring appeared to blow up in mid-July, when Schumer accused Manchin of “walking away” after months of negotiation.
But when Manchin and Schumer suddenly announced their deal on the Inflation Reduction Act at the end of July, it made it clear that GOP senators had received the green light to vote for the CHIPS Act too.
“He felt he was burned and his credibility was damaged,” the senator said of McConnell’s reaction to Manchin announcing his surprise deal with Schumer. “He was angry about it.”
The Republican senator who aired those feelings of betrayal publicly was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who also voted for the CHIPS Act.
Cornyn said “trust was eviscerated” when Manchin unveiled his deal with Schumer.
“Sens. Manchin and Schumer did not draft this 725-page bill in the four hours between the passage of the CHIPS Act and Senator Manchin’s press release. They’ve been working on this the entire time when they told us it was off the table,” he fumed on the Senate floor.
“To look you in the eye and tell you one thing and to do another is absolutely unforgivable,” he said.