Manchin defends decision to quash Build Back Better Act, saying he was at his ‘wits’ end’

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Monday defended his decision to quash negotiations over President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, stating he was at his “wits’ end” in talks with the White House.

In a lengthy radio interview, Manchin suggested that he was never going to be swayed by progressive Democrats no matter how much pressure he was under to support their proposals.

“We’ve been way far apart philosophically,” Manchin said on West Virginia Metro News’ “Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval,” noting that he has repeatedly pushed for a maximum of $1.5 trillion in spending compared to the $3.5 trillion initially pushed by the White House and progressives.

Manchin said he’s “not blaming anybody” as far as what pushed him over the brink, but said Democrats didn’t realize how steadfast he was in his positions. He said he wanted the measure to include work requirements and means-testing.

“I knew where they were and I knew what they could and could not do. They just never realized it because they figured, surely to God we can move one person, surely we can badger and beat one person up, surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough,” he said. “Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period.”

Manchin also cryptically suggested there was something specific that pushed him over the edge in the talks.

“They know the real reason what happened. They won’t tell you and I’m not going to,” Manchin said about the administration.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday repeatedly said the president views Manchin as a friend and that the White House will continue to work to get the bill passed.

“They’re longtime friends — that has not changed — and what’s most on the president’s mind is the risk of inaction,” Psaki said at a press briefing, adding that “compromise isn’t a dirty word” for Biden.

“The president continues to believe that they share a range of values, they share a commitment to helping working people, to helping lower costs for the American people. Our intention yesterday was to provide specific details to the American people about the events of the last few weeks,” Psaki said.

Psaki also defended Sunday’s uncharacteristically harsh response from the White House, in which she said Manchin’s opposition to the bill contradicted private conversations and commitments Manchin had made to the White House.

In his radio interview earlier Monday, Manchin said: “It’s staff driven. I understand staff, it’s not the president, it’s the staff. And they drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable and they know what it is and that’s it.”

Asked if he was suggesting that the president’s staff was putting out information that was generating criticism of the senator, Manchin said, “I’m just saying the bottom line. I knew that we could not change — it was never going to change. It never could change that many people.”

The Senate adjourned early Saturday, with Democrats missing their self-imposed Christmas deadline to vote on the social spending package. The House passed a version of the legislation in November.

Manchin said Monday that he told Senate Democratic leaders originally that the original Build Back Better plan was “very far-reaching.” He said he’s much more concerned about inflation, the Covid pandemic and geopolitical divisions.

He criticized Democrats for approaching legislation “as if you have 55 or 60 senators that are Democrats and you can do whatever you want.”

“I think I still represent the centrist wing of a Democratic Party that has compassion, but also has reasonability,” he said.

Manchin said the only reason he voted to move forward with the reconciliation process that resulted in the development of the Build Back Better bill was his desire to roll back the 2017 tax cuts signed by former President Donald Trump so that “everybody paid their fair share” in taxes.

Asked if he would be open to considering the proposals individually or on a smaller scale next year, Manchin said that he wants Democrats to hold hearings on the plan in committee and then make a decision about it. The House had held hearings on the legislation.

Manchin had previously said he would support separate legislation to extend child tax credit payments, but such a bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, which Democrats control only by a slim margin.

“In order to do that, we need the 60 votes in the Senate and we just don’t have that, right?” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last week. “So that is not an option here.”

And as for whether he thinks there’s still a place for him in the Democratic Party, Manchin said, “I would like to hope there are still Democrats who think like I do. I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. Now, if there are no Democrats like that, then they’ll have to push me where they want me.”

Shannon Pettypiece contributed.

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