Manchin dismisses concerns that he would have tanked relief package

By | March 7, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday he never intended to kill the recently passed $1.9 trillion Covid relief package if he didn’t get his way on unemployment benefits that became an unexpected sticking point late last week.

“That’s not how negotiations should go and that should never be the intent of anybody,” the West Virginia Democrat said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There was nothing that I wanted more than to have a balanced bill.”

The dispute over the size of unemployment payments — and how long the enhanced benefits should last — threw the fate of the legislation into limbo for hours Friday, given Democrats’ razor-thin margin to pass the bill under the budget reconciliation process. Manchin’s late resistance frustrated Democrats and required a last-minute call from President Joe Biden to help resolve the impasse.

A deal came together Friday, with Democrats agreeing to trim unemployment benefits to $300 a week through Labor Day — as opposed to $400 a week through August in the version of the bill passed earlier by the House. And the Senate then passed the bill 50-49 on strictly partisan lines Saturday after a marathon overnight session.

The saga highlighted Manchin’s sway as the pivotal vote in the evenly divided Senate, though some members of his party have chafed at his present influence. Manchin downplayed the idea that he is wielding outsize authority over the fate of crucial legislation and Biden’s political appointments.

“You’ve got to work a little bit harder when we have this toxic atmosphere and the divisions that we have and the tribal mentality,” Manchin said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “I always want that moderate middle to be able to work, and that’s where you govern from.”

Manchin said that despite the absence of Republican votes for the bill, the GOP still influenced the legislation’s design.

“It was more than what maybe they could have voted and supported, but they did have input, I can assure you,” he said.

The West Virginia Democrat said that he remains hopeful that there is room for bipartisan deal-making during Biden’s presidency.

“We had an awful lot of input from Republican friends all through this process,” he said on ABC. “They had tremendous amount of input. They just couldn’t get there at the end.”

Manchin added that Biden “encouraged them to be involved all the way through.”

“He spoke to them all the way up to the end.”