Uh oh: White House, GOP now "further apart" after week of infrastructure talks than they were before

(AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)

What’d I say in the earlier thread about Manchin potentially wavering on the filibuster? The left has spent the last four months calling him a schmuck for thinking that the GOP would ever compromise on anything. The fact that Republicans are getting ready to filibuster the House bill establishing the January 6 commission strengthens that point, as it suggests that even a “nonpartisan” matter like whether to investigate the attack on the Capitol will become mired in intractable partisanship in time.

Manchin’s ace in the hole was infrastructure. Even if the GOP disappointed him on the January 6 commission — and he does sound awfully disappointed — he could always show the left that they were wrong to doubt Republicans’ willingness to compromise if they made a deal with Biden on his next big spending bill. And they’ve been trying to make a deal. Shelley Moore Capito from Manchin’s home state of West Virginia has been leading the negotiations on behalf of 10 Republican senators. The White House also seems willing to facilitate a compromise by splitting Biden’s infrastructure proposals into two bills, one a more traditional roads-and-bridges package and the other heavier on social spending, so that the GOP can support the former without supporting the latter.

The latest news is grim, though. Biden has set an informal deadline of Memorial Day, 10 days from now, to reach a deal before Democrats decide to go it alone. Obviously Manchin will have a say in that, as there’s no way to proceed with reconciliation if he’s unwilling to be the 50th vote. But with infrastructure talks seemingly falling apart and with the GOP about to knife him on the January 6 commission, maybe he’s more willing to be that 50th vote than he was yesterday. Maybe he’d even reconsider his stance that he’ll never vote to end the filibuster.

The stalemate is at least as much Biden’s fault as it is Republicans’. They offered a package of $568 billion; he countered with … $2.3 trillion. He came down today with his new offer to $1.7 trillion, but (a) that’s still more than a trillion dollars apart and (b) much of the money he “cut” from his previous offer is just being moved into other legislation, where it can pass with Democratic-only votes. That does nothing to address the GOP’s concerns about runaway spending. Nor did he bow to their demands to focus exclusively on real infrastructure in the bill: There’s still $400 billion for elder care in there. And Biden still wants to hike the corporate tax rate, a nonstarter for Republicans given their interest in preserving the 2017 Trump tax cuts.

A few days ago Capito said she thought the odds of a deal were better than 50/50. I’m guessing she’d say differently now. That’s because Biden knows he’s holding the cards here, particularly with Republicans making Manchin look bad after he vouched for their willingness to compromise. If talks collapse, the White House will say to him, “Now you’ve seen for yourself that McConnell will obstruct everything, including a probe into the insurrection. So are you ready to do infrastructure by reconciliation? More importantly, are you willing to ditch the filibuster?”

I don’t think Manchin will go nuclear. He’s said too many times before that nothing will change his mind. But might he punish Republicans for making him look like a fool by agreeing to do the whole infrastructure package by reconciliation? Yeah, that seems plausible. And Democratic activists like Greg Sargent are seizing on the looming failure of the House’s January 6 commission bill to beg Manchin to at least consider the nuclear option:

Manchin is still holding out hope. But what if Republicans filibuster any and all voting protections, including his, after filibustering a genuine accounting into an effort to overturn a legitimate presidential election through street violence, all to cover up the role of Republicans themselves in inciting that violence?

McConnell has made it plain. If he gets his way, protecting democracy can and will only be a partisan exercise. One party will do it largely or exclusively on its own, or it won’t happen at all.

Under those circumstances, how can Manchin continue to support the filibuster while insisting that the only permissible way to protect democracy is through bipartisanship?

As much heat as Manchin has taken from the left over the filibuster so far, it’s nothing compared to what it’ll look like next month if the commission bill goes down in flames and infrastructure talks collapse.

I’ll leave you with Marco Rubio announcing his position on the January 6 bill this afternoon. He’s voting no — of course, as he’s up for reelection in Trump’s home state of Florida next year and Trump has already made clear that he views supporting the commission as a betrayal. Rubio’s explanation is interesting in that he seems to have realized sometime between yesterday and today that the common GOP critiques of the commission bill aren’t true. It’s not lopsided towards Dems; it’s a five/five split on the panel, and Republicans have veto power over subpoenas. It wouldn’t stretch into the midterm campaign either since the bill requires a report by December 31. So, forced to justify his vote somehow, he complains that if Republicans on the commission blocked a Democratic subpoena, Democrats would complain to the media about it and Republicans would look bad. Which, uh, yes. If Dems had a good argument to subpoena someone, like say Trump or Kevin McCarthy to try to find out what Trump was doing while the mob was attacking the building, it would look bad for GOP commissioners to block that. Rubio wants to avert that outcome because he feels duty-bound as a Republican (at least one who wants to win his election next year) to run interference for the insurrectionists and the people who inspired them.

So what he’s going to end up with instead is a House select committee dominated by Democrats, with no time limit on its investigation and which can still subpoena whomever it wants. But a committee like that can be more easily discredited as partisan and illegitimate, which in turn will make it more politically palatable for witnesses to fight their subpoenas in court and drag the probe out. Rubio’s just running interference for people on his side to protect his career. Nothing more or less.

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