Sanders: Democrats’ strategy for handling Manchin, Sinema an ‘absolute political failure’

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says Democrats need to change their approach to navigating the Senate’s razor-thin majority — specifically how they deal with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

“How you handle Manchin, how you handle Sinema and the other conservative Democrats is one of the challenges that the Democrats have got to deal with,” Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, said in a new Vanity Fair article. “But the current strategy is an absolute political failure.”

Sinema and Manchin, among the chamber’s most conservative Democrats, have repeatedly blocked or forced scale-backs of President Biden’s top priorities. After months of negotiations, Manchin outright rejected the Build Back Better bill, a sweeping package to confront climate change and expand the social safety net, while both senators blocked voting rights legislation.

“What happened is you had people like [Manchin and Sinema] who sabotaged our efforts, what we were trying to do,” Sanders told Vanity Fair. “Ever since then, the Democratic Party has stumbled and fallen further and further behind.”

Manchin’s and Sinema’s offices didn’t respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Sanders’s opinion of his two colleagues is no secret. During a December appearance on MSNBC, Sanders blasted the duo as “arrogant” for blocking Democratic priorities.

“I do not respect the arrogance of any member of the Senate who says, ‘You know what? I’m going to torpedo this entire bill, supported overwhelmingly by the American people,'” Sanders said. “You’ve got two people saying, ‘You know what? Hey, if you don’t do it my way — I don’t care what the president wants, I don’t care what 48 of my colleagues want — it’s my way or the highway.’”

“That, I regard as arrogance,” he added.

Under Biden’s nearly $2 trillion proposal, Build Back Better would have tackled several progressive priorities including implementing universal prekindergarten, creating a federal paid family leave program, expanding Medicaid coverage and lowering prescription drug costs.

However, with the evenly split Senate, Democrats could not afford to lose a single vote, giving each member of the caucus an outsized role in negotiations, as Biden conceded in a CNN town hall last year.

“Look, you have 50 Democrats, every one is a president. Every single one,” he said. “So you got to work things out.”

Lawmakers recently have expressed hope about rebooting talks on a scaled-back version on Build Back Better, though time is running short with Republicans expected to take control of the House in November’s midterm elections.

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