Democrats are warning time is already running out for President Joe Biden’s agenda. Joe Manchin isn’t in any rush.
The West Virginia Democrat isn’t ready to wind down bipartisan negotiations on infrastructure, willing to blow through the unofficial Memorial Day deadline. And progressive senators hoping to speed up Biden’s priorities by shattering the filibuster shouldn’t hold their breath: Manchin reiterated that he won’t lower the 60-vote threshold even if Senate Republicans block an independent commission on Jan. 6 in the coming days.
“This is the long game, it’s not a short game,” Manchin told reporters on Tuesday afternoon, as many of Biden’s priorities hang in the balance. “Now all of a sudden everything has to be done within 30 days, or two weeks or a week. The Senate is very deliberate.”
Manchin is the key 50th vote in the evenly divided Senate and he, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and several other moderates are straining to see if a bipartisan approach can work in the upper chamber. He argues the Senate’s agenda proves his viewpoint is pertinent: An American competitiveness bill aimed at boosting domestic research and manufacturing could pass as soon as this week after amendment votes.
After that, conflict looms over the Jan. 6 commission, infrastructure, police reform, immigration and voting rights. Manchin says everyone needs a little space.
He said if talks fall apart between Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), he’s got a back-channel group of senators that could step in. When asked if he still opposes using the party-line reconciliation approach that passed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, Manchin warned reporters about their dour view of talks.
“We’re meeting. We’re going to get a bill. I think you’re basically trying to seed dissent,” Manchin said. “I think we’re going to be fine guys, I really do. I think we’re going down the path.”
“If you lead us to believe it’s going to be blown up, it doesn’t take much for these guys to light the firecracker.” Manchin added, gesturing at the Capitol.
Manchin is sanguine about where things stand but realistic about missing the Memorial Day deadline, saying: “there’s no magic date and there’s no magic time, there’s no magic number.” He doesn’t have an estimate about how much he’d be willing to spend but reiterated that Biden’s proposed corporate tax hike to 28 percent is a non-starter for him and would make the United States less competitive.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that his caucus would move on infrastructure in July, giving Manchin and Senate Republicans a bit more time even as the White House grows impatient.
Of course, Manchin is also frustrating liberals in his party that want to wind down the fruitless infrastructure talks and move another bill with 50 Democratic votes. Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has signaled he is preparing to pass a budget bill that could set up the reconciliation process.
Manchin seemed to challenge Sanders to move forward without him: “If you think you got it then go for it.” Given Democrats’ slim majority, Sanders will need everyone on board.
“We have to find something reasonable and I’m always looking for that moderate, reasonable, middle if you can,” Manchin said. “It might not be as big as they want and then you have people on the right that don’t want to do that much or do nothing at all. I probably wouldn’t be there either.”
Marianne Levine contributed to this report.