In a blunt press conference, Manchin said he would not yield to peer pressure to endorse the more progressive social spending bill and denounced the “shell games, budget gimmicks” used in writing it. The West Virginia Democrat slammed House Democrats’ delay of a bipartisan infrastructure bill he helped draft, declaring it “time to vote.”
Since Manchin is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s proverbial 50th vote, his criticisms broke through the Senate Democratic Caucus. They left some senators like Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) concerned about Manchin’s level of engagement. She argued that Biden “obviously has work to do” with Manchin. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said, “quite a few of us are going to continue to press our friend and colleague."
It was clear that Democrats had heard some version of Manchin’s calls for the delay and pointed scrutiny before. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said, “it didn’t seem like anything he couldn’t have sent in an email.” And some Democrats insisted that although Manchin can be difficult to predict, he is not the type of politician to obstruct Biden on purpose.
“Manchin is not going to be the guy who pulls the foundation out of the Biden first-year track record,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “I don’t think he’ll surprise me on this.”
Manchin slammed House Progressives for holding up the $550 billion infrastructure bill but maintained that despite his statements about the White House's framework, he couldn’t be seen as an automatic yes just because he’s a Democrat.
It’s a major gut check for Biden and his party's fragile majorities, which demand lockstep unity in the 50-50 Senate and near-total support in the House. Democrats need Manchin’s vote to pass the rest of Biden’s climate and social spending agenda. Still, Manchin’s only real request on Monday was that the House quickly pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
When it came to the $1 trillion-plus spending bill, Manchin’s words were far less ironclad.
"I'm open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward. But I'm equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country,” Manchin said, mentioning inflation and budget deficits as his main concerns. Democrats have linked their infrastructure and social spending bills as part of a strategic effort to consolidate their disparate wings to push major legislative goals this year.