PBS NewsHour: Manchin rejects Build Back Better bill over ‘inexcusable’ differences with White House

PBS NEWSHOUR, LISA DESJARDINS, YAMICHE ALCINDOR, AND JUDY WOODRUFF

Judy Woodruff: And now to our other lead story tonight, the political fallout from the near-collapse of negotiations over the Build Back Better legislative package, a keystone of President Biden’s domestic agenda. Republicans have opposed the legislation. And Democrats are looking at the road ahead, now that one of their own seems to be a firm no on the current package. Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV): If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it.

Lisa Desjardins: The words dropped like boulders. On “FOX News Sunday,” Senator Joe Manchin suddenly threw President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda into new turmoil. The West Virginia Democrat said the White House and others weren’t doing enough to reduce or, in his mind, be honest about the ultimate cost of the bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin: We should be up front and pick our priorities. That’s the difference. and what we need to do is get our financial house in order, but be able to pay for what we do and do what we pay for.

Lisa Desjardins: During a radio interview today, Manchin also blamed White House staffers for the negotiations’ collapse.

Sen. Joe Manchin: But you know me, always willing to work and listen and try. I just got to the wit’s end. And they know the real reason what happened. They won’t tell you. And I’m not going to because I…(CROSSTALK)

Hoppy Kercheval, Radio Talk Show Host: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Sen. Joe Manchin: No.

Hoppy Kercheval: Wait. Wait. You said you there is — they know the real reason, they’re not going to tell us, you’re not going to tell us. What do you mean? What’s the real — so there’s…

Sen. Joe Manchin: Well, the bottom line is, there was — they’re, basically — and his staff. 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.

Lisa Desjardins: This as the White House swung with its own sharp charges about Manchin. In a statement yesterday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Manchin’s comments a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position and a breach of commitments to the president and the senator’s colleagues. This was Psaki today:

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary I can’t speak for Senator Manchin on what has upset him. I will let him speak to that himself with more specifics if he chooses to. And he may or may not choose to. And that’s his prerogative.

Lisa Desjardins: The latest Build Back Better plan was on a historic scale, affecting millions:, providing universal pre-K, lowering child care costs, expanding health care, including a dramatic cut in the price of insulin, and combating climate change, with large-scale tax incentives and new regulations on methane gas. With all of that on the ropes, much Democratic reaction has been furious. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to MSNBC.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): The idea that Joe Manchin says he can’t explain this back home to his people is a farce.

Lisa Desjardins: Other statements flurried. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders wrote that Manchin should explain to West Virginians how his move might harm them. Moderate Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger called Manchin’s actions unacceptable. Advocacy groups, like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, lamented. They called Manchin’s decision a breach of commitment. But, in San Francisco today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was more restrained and focused, insisting Manchin will sign onto something.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): I have confidence that Senator Manchin cares about our country, and that, at some point very soon, we can take up the legislation. I’m not deterred at all.

Lisa Desjardins: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will put a revised bill to a vote in the Senate early in the new year. He promised senators that the chamber will keep voting on it until we get something done.

Judy Woodruff: And Lisa joins me now, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

And a note: Because of fast-changing information about COVID and the Omicron variant, we are asking guests and our own correspondents to join us remotely. So, hello to both of you. And, Lisa, I’m going to start with you. Two big questions. How did this happen and what does it mean?

Lisa Desjardins: Well, there was a breakdown in talks, clearly, between the White House and Senator Manchin over the last couple of weeks .I believe some of that has to deal — do with some personalities involved, as Senator Manchin eluded to. But there are bigger issues here. From Senator Manchin and those close to him, they stress that this was just an issue of the package being too large and fiscally irresponsible, in their view. We can report — Yamiche and I have both confirmed to sources — that sometime in the past couple of weeks, Senator Manchin said he was open and even could agree to a deal that was smaller that did not contain the child tax credit in it, but did contain things like universal pre-K, expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and some money to combat climate change. But, clearly, that was not enough for Democrats at that time. And here’s where we are. What does it mean? We will have to see what it ultimately means. But, at this moment, it is a huge blow to Democrats’ hopes, and it is something that many millions of Americans could be affected by. I want to talk about those stakeholders really quickly. For example, let’s talk about that child tax credit, which is expiring right now. The expanded version of it is expiring. That affects some 61 million children in this country. Then we talk about health care costs and drug prices in particular. In this bill was that idea of keeping insulin costs down to $35 per month. That’s about eight million Americans who use insulin on a regular basis. Then, of course, you talk about climate. That is a global issue. That is something that everyone either is or will deal with in the near future, if nothing changes. Now, then you think about what’s going on in West Virginia today. There are of course, many stakeholders there. Democrats say, why isn’t Joe Manchin thinking of his constituents, the 25,000 children, for example, that would get pre-K or early education in this deal? Talking to them, there is anger among some progressives and Democrats in West Virginia at Joe Manchin, some of his closest allies, but there’s others who say, listen, we just don’t trust government. We think this deal was too big. And whatever the details were about how it affects my family, I just — we just think it was too big, and that’s where Joe Manchin ended up.

Judy Woodruff: And, Yamiche, what is the White House view of all this?

Yamiche Alcindor: Well, Judy, the White House and President Biden have felt really blindsided by Senator Joe Manchin coming out and saying that he was not going to support the Build Back Better Act. The president personally signed off on a statement that was released by the White House press secretary. He does that in for a lot of statements. But this one was really a rare statement because it was lengthy and it was biting, and it really did go after Senator Manchin. He said that he was someone who was going to have to explain to his constituents why they did not get some of the benefits that they badly need. Also, I want to put up this statement. They essentially said that Senator Manchin promised to continue conversations in the days ahead. And then they said — quote — “If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an effort — an effort to end that effort,” I should say. “They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position and a breach of his commitment to the president and the senators’ colleagues in the House and Senate.” We just don’t see language like that coming from the White House, because they have been so careful in trying to negotiate with Senator Manchin. So that tells you sort of the level of anger that the White House was feeling yesterday. Now, the White House press secretary did come out today. She was a little bit more subdued. She said multiple times that Senator Manchin and the president are — quote — “longtime friends” and that they’re going to continue to have shared values and going to continue to talk. The other thing to note, though, is that this is really coming at a time when the White House was already facing pressure about who has the power really in Washington. I want to play for folks this exchange between the vice president, Kamala Harris, and a host from Comedy Central who specifically asked her who was president, President Joe Biden or Senator Manchin?

Charlamagne Tha God, Radio Talk Show Host: So, who’s the real president of this country? Is it Joe Manchin or Joe Biden, Madam Vice President? Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States: Come on, Charlamagne. Come on.

Charlamagne Tha God: I really — I can’t tell sometimes.

Kamala Harris: No, no, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. It’s Joe Biden. And don’t start talking like a Republican about asking whether or not he’s president.

Charlamagne Tha God: Do you think Joe Manchin is a problem?

Kamala Harris: And it’s Joe Biden. And it’s Joe Biden. And it’s Joe Biden. And I’m vice president. And my name is Kamala Harris.

Yamiche Alcindor: So, you see there really the vice president getting very, very testy and very defensive of President Biden. But it really gets to the bottom line, which is that only a couple of, I would say months ago, President Biden said during a CNN town hall, when you’re a president, but you have a 50/50 Senate, every senator is president. So it really just sums up that the president is in a tough spot here.

Judy Woodruff: So, given all this, Lisa, for Democrats, what now?

Lisa Desjardins: Well, there’s a lot of hopefulness today that there wasn’t there yesterday. Let me go through really quickly what’s going to happen now. As we recorded, Senator Schumer has a plan. He’s going to build — bring Build Back Better before the full Senate. It is expected to fail as it stands right now. But he plans to do that very early next year. He says he will keep trying, keep bringing up votes until there is something that can pass the United States Senate. Now, here’s the issue for Democrats, Judy, my reporting, talking to many Democrats across the spectrum. Here’s the issue. Here’s what they have to think about now in crafting this new bill, one, the size of the new bill, two, how to pay for it, which is another issue that affects another senator, Kyrsten Sinema. And then, of course, there are varying priorities here. Some of them prioritize climate, some the child tax credit. Other Democrats, it’s early education. Some Democrats, it’s health care, still more, immigration. So they have to make those decisions. One congressman, Democrat Mark DeSaulnier of California, told me today, “This is bigger than all of us.” So they’re trying to take a deep breath right now.

Judy Woodruff: And finally to Yamiche. I did see reporting the president and Joe Manchin did have a phone call yesterday afternoon. But what does this mean for the president’s agenda going forward for 2022?

Yamiche Alcindor: Well, Judy, the deep side that I’m sure folks heard when Lisa was asked what’s next is the same deep sigh that the White House is doing, because they’re — frankly, they’re really challenged about how to move forward. President Biden, the White House press secretary said today multiple times, he’s going to try his hardest to continue doing the Build Back Better negotiations. They’re saying over and over again that this is not a dead bill. But it’s very, very hard to see how this comes through. There’s also, of course, the fact that this is coming at a tough time for the president, because we’re experiencing COVID spikes, and people really are looking for relief. So, when you look at the child tax credit, when you look at the idea of universal pre-K, all of these things are what Americans in some ways will really need as this COVID spike happens. And then, of course, there’s all the things that are unresolved that Democrats, especially African American Democrats, who make up the base of the Democratic Party — they want to see voting rights reform. They want to see policing reform. None of that has come through. So the president’s absolutely in a tough spot.

Judy Woodruff: Very, very full plate. Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.

Yamiche Alcindor: Thank you.

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