When Manchin announced Sunday that he was definitely a no on Build Back Better, that may have been a real surprise to the White House. According to an opinion piece by an editor at large for the Hill named Steve Clemons who is apparently friendly with Sen. Manchin, President Biden and Manchin had been having congenial discussions about the BBB bill for weeks. They had already agreed that it likely wasn’t gong to happen this year and would be pushed off until early next year. Behind the scenes, the tone of these talks was friendly with both Biden and Manchin agreeing they would eventually work through the issues and get to a result that made everyone happy. And then, last Thursday the White House did something that really upset Manchin:
Joe and Joe were pulling in the same direction. There would be no BBB gifts under the Christmas tree — but no one would get coal in their stockings, either. Both sides were congenial, and both agreed not to trash each other, not to throw around White House chief of staff Ron Klain’s name, or the president’s or presidential counselor Steve Ricchetti’s — and the White House would refrain from finger-pointing as a way to keep the process constructive.
My sources on this come from both Manchin’s people and the White House.
But then – bang! – the White House released a statement blaming Manchin for the delay. It tried to strike a positive tone about the future, but it targeted Manchin specifically and alone.
Here’s the White House statement published last Thursday. It reads in part:
I had a productive call with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer earlier today. I briefed them on the most recent discussions that my staff and I have held with Senator Manchin about Build Back Better. In these discussions, Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September. I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition.
My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week.
That doesn’t really sound too negative to me, but remember that Manchin, like Sinema, has been hounded by protesters who have been showing up at his home and making this debate very personal. Here’s what he was facing in late September:
For four days, protesters from West Virginia rallied by kayaks and other boats in front of Sen. Joe Manchin's houseboat to demand he support the budget reconciliation bill. https://t.co/Ze5zmqnuq4 pic.twitter.com/p3ry2G0AKb
— CNN (@CNN) October 2, 2021
And in November:
Climate activists harass Joe Manchin as he leaves his house boat this morning: “We want to live!” they yell. pic.twitter.com/2JgatMkkXy
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) November 4, 2021
— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) December 1, 2021
6 weeks ago Abby, while in the middle of their hunger strike confronted Joe Manchin asking him for a meeting.
He blew her off. pic.twitter.com/KcjbQiyqzD
— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) December 3, 2021
So behind the scenes, the two Joes were having a pleasant conversation but the White House statement really singled Manchin out as the obstacle to progress which meant that the protests would likely continue outside his home. Manchin considered that a violation of the gentleman’s agreement he and Biden had reached in private.
Given the protests that Manchin’s family has experienced at his home, which is a boat in Washington Harbor — with folks harassing him, his wife and grandson by kayak around his boat and the gate to the marina — I knew this presidential statement was personalizing the game. It put his family at risk, in my view. Everyone knows Manchin and Sinema are the two Democrats the White House must negotiate with because it has given up on Republicans — but to specify Manchin in a presidential statement meant the terms of the dealmaking had changed…
Not understanding Manchin’s red lines on negotiating doesn’t sound like Biden — but, somehow, someone went right over those lines.
So with the White House singling him out, Manchin decided to just announce he was a no on the bill. The Hill suggests this doesn’t sound like something that came directly from Biden. Manchin himself has suggested it was the White House staff, not the president, who set him off. Someone was too interested in making the president look tough and it backfired big time.