Dems about to play hardball with Manchin ... and vice versa?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Yesterday, Joe Manchin made it clear that he didn’t appreciate getting “badger[ed]” and “beat up” by his party’s leadership over his consistent opposition to their radical social engineering. He also held out some slim hope that he could support the kind of reconciliation bill he wanted all along — something under $2 trillion in real ten-year cost, with tax code changes whose benefits didn’t accrue mainly to wealthy donors in New York and California.

In response, Democrats plan to, er … badger and beat up Manchin even more, reports The Hill:

Senate Democrats are signaling they plan to take more of a hardball approach to pressuring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their climate and social spending agenda after months of kid-glove treatment failed to deliver his vote.

Democrats are threatening to drive a wedge between Manchin and his many lower-income constituents who stand to reap billions of dollars in federal benefits if Build Back Better passes, including an enhanced child tax credit, lower Medicare-negotiated prescription drug prices and subsidies to cover the cost of childcare.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday said Manchin will have to repeatedly defend his opposition to these popular programs by voting on the floor and took a subtle shot at his colleague for trying to dictate national policy through an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend.

Democratic aides say that Manchin can expect more tough treatment from Schumer and other Democratic lawmakers who are now under new pressure from the party’s base for failing to deliver on the “big, bold” agenda they promised earlier this year.

“He has had absolutely no pressure,” said one Democratic aide, citing Manchin’s friendly meetings with the at the White House and at Biden’s home in Delaware this fall that failed to produce results.

Excuse me? “Absolutely no pressure”? Not only has Manchin been under constant pressure from progressives in both the House and Senate, he’s been the target of so much abuse from them and their allies that at one point they finally realized it wasn’t doing them any good. That was after House Democrat Cori Bush attacked Manchin for being “racist” over his opposition to BBB:

Manchin wasn’t the only senator targeted over BBB. Kyrsten Sinema got repeatedly harassed in public by activists, including in public restrooms. It got so bad for both Senate Democrats that the White House’s blame-shifting last week to Manchin finally pushed him over the edge in part because Manchin knew that would set off another round of harassment.

And that doesn’t even count the harassment Manchin got over his opposition to Democrats’ attempts to federalize elections in SB1, and his (and Sinema’s) refusal to eliminate the filibuster to pass it. Al Sharpton — who once ran for the Democratic presidential nomination — threatened to hold rallies in West Virginia and Arizona to paint both as racists over that, too.

The idea that Manchin has faced “absolutely no pressure” to bend is ludicrous on its face. So too is the idea that Senate Democrats have any options for “hardball” with Manchin. If they held 55 seats, perhaps they could get away with alienating Manchin, but if that were the case, Manchin wouldn’t matter anyway. Instead, Manchin provides them a crucial final vote for control of the Senate — and to get Joe Biden’s nominees confirmed. Manchin’s going to look a lot more valuable next summer if Stephen Breyer retires from the Supreme Court, as Democrats hope.

If anything, it’s Manchin who has the leverage to play hardball. If he stops caucusing with Democrats, the chamber then gets split 50/49/1 in favor of the GOP, triggering a new reorganization in the Senate that would put Mitch McConnell in charge. Manchin wouldn’t even need to join the GOP caucus, although one would have to wonder why he wouldn’t. McConnell would certainly reward him with a committee chair position, and West Virginia is so Republican already that Manchin’s political prospects would only get enhanced with the flip.

But would Manchin drop out of the caucus? Punchbowl’s latest on the situation should sober up Chuck Schumer, but probably won’t:

Senate Democrats are holding a special party conference call tonight at 8 p.m. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) isn’t sure if he’s going to participate, a source familiar with the situation tells us. This is especially noteworthy because Manchin’s declared opposition to the Build Back Better Act – and the fallout that’s provoked – is why Senate Democrats are having the call in the first place.

If he doesn’t join the call, it’s just another example of how far afield Manchin is from the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill at the moment.

Opting out of caucus meetings looks like a choice with a purpose. Will Democrats see this as a warning from Manchin about what comes next if Democrats continue their “badger and beat up” strategy? Or are they too committed to their hard-Left progressive agenda to save themselves? Stay tuned.