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Breaking News Today : How Democrats miscalculated Manchin and later won him back

- By cacareq
Publish Date : 2021-03-07 04:26:57
Breaking News Today : How Democrats miscalculated Manchin and later won him back

It was Friday afternoon, and President Joe Biden was on the phone with Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative West Virginia Democrat who felt blindsided by his party leaders and now was at risk of defecting and effectively torpedoing a central pillar of the White House's domestic agenda.

Just a couple hours earlier as he walked onto the floor ahead of votes on Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan, Manchin was stunned about the last-minute dealings of his party's leaders with the backing of the White House. For the first time, he learned that Democrats were seeking to advance a new plan on jobless benefits that would allow people to ensure their first $10,200 was tax free.



Manchin told colleagues he knew nothing about that tax provision. Yet Democratic leaders thought that Manchin was on board since their rank-and-file senators had reached out to him and reported back to party bosses that he was with them. They'd told the White House things were in good shape.

But Manchin was not on board, making clear he was not going to be jammed by his party leaders into accepting something he didn't like, according to sources who talked him, underscoring the power of an individual senator to derail the new President's agenda in the 50-50 Senate.

Asked why Democratic leaders' dispute with Manchin wasn't resolved ahead of time, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Saturday: "We thought it was."

The resulting confusion and chaos -- and miscommunication between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his most important swing vote -- put Washington on edge, threatened to blow up a delicately negotiated compromise and forced Democrats to leave a vote open longer than any in modern history -- nearly 12 hours -- as they engaged in a furious lobbying campaign and horse-trading to get Manchin on board.

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Privately, about half a dozen Democratic senators were engaged in constant discussions with Manchin, hoping to find a way to win him back -- all as Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman was speaking with Manchin multiple times an hour about his own alternative that Manchin supported but that Democratic leaders wanted to defeat.

"I was trying to be the catcher in the rye. I was trying to keep him talking to the leadership," said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who said he was speaking with Manchin "constantly" on Friday. "My goal was to keep him talking and not let it fall apart."

For Biden, though, the approach amounted to a soft-sell. He was deliberately careful not to add pressure to the situation, instead choosing to give Manchin space and listen to his concerns, a source with knowledge of the discussion said. But Biden did underscore one overarching point: how crucial it was to reach an agreement to get the bill toward the finish line given the urgency of the current economic and public health crisis. Manchin, two sources said, was urged by the President to do what he thought was right -- in essence to vote his conscience.

It was a reflection of a relationship that multiple sources said has been in a solid place since Biden took office -- Manchin of the mind that Biden is an honest broker, and Biden cognizant of the fact Manchin is his own senator and doesn't take kindly to being jammed.

Manchin, who characterized his Friday conversation with Biden as "good," said Saturday the talks "took longer than it should have." But he added: "We got it done, and we got a better deal."

"Let's just say we had some projects that lasted 12 hours," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. "It took a little longer than we thought.

Manchin had privately signed off on GOP plan

Days prior, Manchin had committed to backing an alternative plan by Portman, who proposed extending jobless benefits to $300 a week through July, reducing the benefit by $100 in the bill that passed the House.

But Democrats, fearful that the Portman plan would pass, worked privately behind the scenes to move forward with their own proposal to head off the Portman plan. The new Democratic plan would also reduce the benefits to $300 but extend them through September. And in order to head off backlash from the left by simply slashing back on the benefits, they added a sweetener: Ensuring that the first $10,200 would not be taxed.

By mid-morning Friday, Democratic leaders were feeling confident with where they were heading. They believed Manchin had signed off on the proposal, after his conversations with a fellow swing vote, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the lead sponsor of the plan. But Manchin said Friday morning he had no knowledge of the tax provision. It's unclear how the message was lost in translation.

"I never heard about this at all. This is the first time I've ever heard about it, that morning. I said, 'Wait a minute,'" Manchin told reporters Saturday about the provision.

And he bluntly told his colleagues Friday he would not vote for the plan unless there were changes, prompting a day-long lobbying effort and leaving many of his colleagues perplexed.

Asked by CNN why he didn't resolve his differences with Manchin on the front-end, Schumer suggested he was surprised by the pushback by his West Virginia colleague.

"People have new differences all the time," Schumer said Saturday after the bill's passage. He added: "That eight hours is meaningless compared to the relief that the American people are going to get. And if it helped us get to that, great."

The failure to sort out their differences on the front-end surprised many Democrats because the two men have a frank a

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