In a move that has the Biden White House coming very, very close to labeling him a liar, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin appeared on Fox News today to give what appeared to be a final shooting-down of Joe Biden's ambitious domestic agenda, known as "Build Back Better." "I've tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there. This is a no," Manchin told Fox.
Manchin's new stance appears to have taken the White House by complete surprise. They quickly released a scathing statement calling Manchin out.
"Senator Manchin's comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances," writes Press Secretary Jen Psaki. "Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework 'in good faith.'"
"On Tuesday of this week, Senator Manchin came to the White House and submitted—to the President, in person, directly—a written outline for a Build Back Better bill that was the same size and scope as the President's framework, and covered many of the same priorities."
"If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator's colleagues in the House and Senate."
The White House, in other words, believes that Joe Manchin lied to both Biden and his colleagues about his intentions. That's not an outrageous supposition: Manchin has continually raised new objections to the framework, one after another, only to balk at something else each time his new demands are met. Manchin, who has heavy financial interests in West Virginia coal mining, the plan to directly attack climate change by modernizing American infrastructure to move away from oil, gas, and coal, has raised objections to everything from lowering the cost of insulin to the Child Tax Credit, but critics have suspected Manchin of acting in bad faith—or even corruptly—so as to defeat a climate change plan that likely threatens the Manchin family's own coal sales.
The continual dishonesty with which Manchin has attacked the BBB framework, citing concerns as diverse as inflation and deficits while misrepresenting the bill's effect on both, supports this this theory. But Manchin has also repeatedly flipped back and forth on his stances seemingly spuriously, leading others to wonder whether many of those flips come from a need for showboating that has frequently lapped Manchin's understanding of the facts.
The blistering White House response suggests that they believe Manchin is indeed rejecting the plan he was negotiating with them only days ago. Other Democrats are blasting Manchin in even harsher terms, with Rep. Pramila Jayapal saying in a statement that Manchin "routinely touts that he is a man of his word, but he can no longer say that. West Virginians, and the country, see clearly who he is."
Manchin is not the only Democrat who may be facing repercussions for his apparent dishonesty. President Joe Biden went to substantial effort to cajole progressive Democratic lawmakers into supporting an initial, "bipartisan" infrastructure package by giving them his word that Manchin would support a broader version if the two bills were unlinked; those progressives warned that Manchin could not be trusted to keep his word after that bill had passed. They were proven right, and Biden's own credibility has now been damaged.
Manchin's true intentions can probably best be gleaned from his actions. His unending series of new objections to the climate change-tackling package were introduced serially, each new dealbreaker coming immediately after negotiations succeeded in overcoming his objections. This delayed the bill interminably—but at no point did Manchin and negotiators seem any closer to finding the last of his objections, or any pattern to them other than as roadblocks that threatened to poison the legislation for others.
All evidence points to the most obvious reason for Manchin's sabotage. Sen. Manchin drives a Maserati. Sen. Manchin receives a large sum of money from his family's own fossil fuel business. Sen. Manchin's income is based on staving off legislation to protect the nation from climate change, and Sen. Manchin will likely have a financial stake in the coal industry for more years than he will remain a senator. It seems reasonable to suspect that Manchin's goals have always been the same: Delay the anti-climate-change bill as long as possible, using whatever arguments are required, only "killing" the bill outright after stringing his colleagues along until the last possible moment.