‘I cannot vote to continue’: Manchin dooms Biden’s Build Back Better plan during Fox interview

‘No’ vote pledge comes after Biden guaranteed to progressives that Manchin would support bill

John Bowden
Sunday 19 December 2021 16:27 GMT
'I cannot vote for it': Manchin closes the door on the Build Back Better Act

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Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced on Sunday that he would vote against President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act should it come to the Senate floor, likely guaranteeing that the legislation will never make it to the president’s desk.

The shocking announcement came after months of negotiations between centrist Mr Manchin, progressives, and the White House, and is a major setback for the Biden administration amid underwater poll numbers and concerns about midterm elections next year.

"I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I've tried everything possible. I can't get there,” the West Virginia Democrat told Fox News Sunday guest host Bret Baier.

“You're done? This is a no?” asked Mr Baier in response.

“This is a no,” Mr Manchin confirmed.

The news comes days after it was announced that the Democratic-controlled Senate was shifting focus to voting rights legislation, another issue in which Mr Manchin’s opposition to changes to the filibuster is expected to doom any attempt at progress.

It also vindicates the views of progressive members of the House who were unwilling to vote “yes” on a smaller, bipartisan infrastructure package until the Build Back Better Act passed for fear that centrists would go back on their vow to continue negotiations, and a blow to those in the progressive caucus who took the White House’s word that President Biden could win over Mr Manchin, with whom he publicly touts a warm relationship.

“The president says he can get 51 votes for the bill,” House Progressive Caucus chair Rep Pramila Jayapal said last month, adding: “We are going to trust him.”

The Independent has reached out to Congresswoman Jayapal’s office for comment on the likely end of the fight to pass the Build Back Better Act.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a progressive leader in the Senate and a key supporter of the president’s bill, lambasted Mr Manchin as a coward on CNN as the news broke. The Vermont Independent urged Senate leadership to bring the package up for a vote anyway to force his colleague to take a public vote against it.

"Well I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia,” said Mr Sanders. “If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world."

Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the six House Democrats who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure package as part of an effort to force the passage of the Build Back Better Act first, excoriated Mr Manchin for a “bulls***” excuse about his concerns regarding inflation and the size of the legislation.

“The people of West Virginia would directly benefit from childcare, pre-Medicare expansion, and long-term care, just like Minnesotans. This is exactly what we warned would happen if we separated Build Back Better from infrastructure,” she wrote.

Another one of those six Democrats, Rep Ayanna Pressley, made clear that she didn’t believe her Democratic colleague Mr Manchin had ever been negotiating with his own party in good faith.

"He's continued to move the goal post. He has never negotiated in good faith and he is obstructing the president's agenda,” she said on CNN’s State of the Union.

The White House has yet to comment on the development, suggesting that the Sunday morning announcement from Mr Manchin caught Mr Biden’s team off-guard.

The question for Mr Biden now is what he does with the climate and health care aspects of his 2020 agenda, and whether the administration can regain the trust of progressives after failing to deliver the West Virginia senator’s vote as promised.

The Build Back Better Act was initially pitched as part of a two-pronged effort to rebuild America’s infrastructure and strengthen its social welfare programs, which many Democrats argued was a kind of societal infrastructure that was necessary to support US workers and families.

If passed, it would have expanded Medicare to cover hearing aid benefits, instituted universal pre-k in states that opted in, and expanded the Child Tax Credit among a number of other provisions, including some aimed at fighting climate change.

It faced steep opposition from the start from Mr Manchin and Arizona Sen Kyrsten Sinema, who sought massive cuts from the bill including the removal of a plan to fund two years of community college for every American.

Now the bill is likely dead, as the Democrats need 50 votes plus Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote in the Senate to advance the legislation through the budget reconciliation process. The bill is highly unlikely to pick up any Republican support, as the GOP Senate caucus has uniformly opposed many of its provisions.

The defeat of legislation named after Mr Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign slogan is a devastating blow for the White House as the campaigns for the 2022 midterms will begin to heat up early next year.

The White House celebrated a victory in the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure framework last month, but the Biden administration has yet to deliver on many of the promises made to the Democratic base by the president including taking serious tangible action against climate change and passing voting rights protections.

In January, many Americans are set to see the end of monthly payments under the Child Tax Credit while simultaneously seeing a pause on federal student loan repayments expire; these two developments will occur as millions of voters begin to think about the midterms and which party should control the House and Senate.

A FiveThirtyEight average of polls shows Mr Biden with approval rating around 43.9per cent, while more than 50 per cent of Americans disapprove of the job his administration is doing.

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