Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) Monday morning to explain himself to the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, and Jayapal said she gave him an earful.
The call followed Manchin’s announcement in a Fox News interview on Sunday that months of negotiations with the White House over the terms of the massive Build Back Better budget reconciliation package had reached an impasse and he “can’t” support the landmark legislation.
“I do believe the president when he said to us, and to me personally, that he got a commitment from Senator Manchin or [Manchin] would have to go back on his word,” Jayapal told reporters on a Monday afternoon press call. “And obviously yesterday, the senator took the latter path and went back on this word. That lack of integrity is stunning in a town where people say the only thing that you have is your word.”
Jayapal went on to say that she said as much to Manchin when he called her on Monday.
“There is nothing I have said here that I didn’t say to him,” Jayapal said. “And you will remember that I have not said anything against him all these months, because I believed he was negotiating in good faith.”
“I certainly wish I didn’t have to say this now,” she added. “But we need to tell the truth about where we are and why.”
Jayapal’s frank revelation about her remarks to Manchin are the latest instance of senior Democrats’ frustrations with Manchin spilling into public view.
The White House issued a similarly scathing rebuke of Manchin after the West Virginia senator implied on Sunday that he was not open to further negotiation over a budget reconciliation package that President Joe Biden is seeking to make the vehicle for transformative safety net and climate policies.
“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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Jayapal’s comments also mark an admission that House progressives’ strategy of trying to force Manchin’s hand had fallen short.
Jayapal, who has led the Congressional Progressive Caucus since 2019, has turned the left-leaning bloc of House Democrats into a cohesive fighting force for perhaps the first time in its history. She streamlined the caucus’ membership rules to ensure a stronger level of ideological commitment and consolidated power under a single chairperson.
“We have trusted for too long that Sen. Manchin was engaging in good faith.”
With Democrats holding paper-thin majorities in both houses of Congress, Jayapal had the leverage to use the power she had accrued.
After Biden let a handful of centrist Senate Democrats and Republicans, including Manchin, negotiate an infrastructure bill separate from the rest of Biden’s agenda, Jayapal threatened to kill the bill in the House unless Manchin and other Democratic holdouts provided ironclad assurances of their support for the Build Back Better package. Her threat delayed a vote on the infrastructure bill for more than a month, postponing its passage.
In late October, the White House released a “framework” of the Build Back Better legislation that it said had resulted from negotiations with Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and many other members of Congress. To this day, Jayapal considers the release of the “framework” as the product of House progressives’ tactical hardball.
Days later, Manchin put out a lengthy statement saying he’d “heard a lot of mischaracterizations of my position” and that he wouldn’t support Build Back Better “without knowing how this bill will impact our debt, our economy and our country.”
But Manchin didn’t contradict Biden or say he would never support the bill. His main objection at the time was to the progressives refusing to support the infrastructure bill without a deal on the Build Back Better bill. Holding up infrastructure was Jayapal’s leverage over Manchin.
Then, in the aftermath of Democrats’ electoral losses in Virginia and New Jersey, Jayapal dropped her opposition to a vote on the infrastructure bill in the House and ended up voting for the bill herself. The White House assured Jayapal that it had received promises from Manchin and other centrist Democrats that the Senate would take up Build Back Better if official cost estimates met the senators’ expectations.
But it didn’t work out. Manchin has continued to complain about the bill’s cost and impact on inflation, and in recent days has also said he’s worried about COVID-19 and “geopolitical unrest,” namely threats from Russia and China.
Given Manchin’s frequently evolving comments on the Build Back Better package, Jayapal said she still believes Biden when he said that Manchin had pledged to support it.
“Either the president did not have a commitment or the senator made a commitment and went back,” Jayapal said. “And I believe the president when he says he had a commitment, so that is why I think we should not rely on the senator’s word.”
Despite her harsh assessment of Manchin’s approach, Jayapal said she remains open to negotiating a deal that would result in passage of key components of the Build Back Better framework, though she would not entertain additional hypothetical compromises.
In the meantime, however, she is calling for the White House to move forward with executive actions to speed up the country’s transition to renewable energy, and reduce the burden of college student debt.
“There is a very powerful tool in the president’s ability to take executive action. And I think that that tool has to be exercised,” she said. “We have trusted for too long that Sen. Manchin was engaging in good faith.”
Some progressives believe that Jayapal should never have agreed to withdraw opposition to the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Six of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ most left-wing members, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), voted against the infrastructure bill in November. Ocasio-Cortez cited Manchin’s Sunday announcement as a validation of her doubts, quipping on Twitter that “maybe” skeptics of her vote at the time will “believe us next time.”
But on Monday, Jayapal defended her decision to decouple passage of the infrastructure bill from Build Back Better, arguing that Manchin would have sunk the latter regardless.
“Had we not passed the infrastructure bill, I actually think that that would have been the day that the senator said, ‘The Build Back Better Act is done,’” she said. “I think he would have walked away.”