With Biden’s agenda based on Manchin, House developers appear to be ‘reducing’ tensions.

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With Biden's agenda based on Manchin, House developers appear to be 'reducing' tensions.

After months of intense scrutiny on his positions, Manchin now stands poised to have the final word on Biden’s agenda, assuming House Democratic leaders can muscle through their version of the Build Back Better plan, which stands at roughly $1.9 trillion, as soon as next week. Then the focus will shift squarely to what Manchin will accept, an open question as he has for months called on his party to hit the brakes. He raised concerns that a multi-trillion bill could add to the country’s inflation woes, pushed back on provisions to reduce methane emissions, opposed a Medicare expansion, demanded changes to the tax provisions in the House proposal and resisted measures aimed at helping undocumented immigrants.

So rather than publicly berating him and demanding he agree to their priorities, many Democrats say the way to win him over is to give him space, avoid the personal attacks, engage in an open dialogue with him and let him ultimately come to a conclusion that passing the bill is crucial not just for the President’s political future but his deep-red state as well.

Added Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, a more centrist Democrat who has been in talks with Manchin over the environmental proposals: “One of the early lessons I’ve learned in politics, all politics is local. And there’s so much at stake here for West Virginia.”

“I have always had a cordial relationship with Sen. Manchin and just wanted to keep the dialogue open so he doesn’t feel in any way disrespected,” Khanna told CNN. “So he knows there is an exchange of ideas. And I think that will make it marginally easier for the White House to build consensus.”

Story Highlights

  • The next day, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Blue Dog Democrat, invited Khanna along with a handful of other House members to make the short trek across the Capitol and meet with Manchin in the Senate cloakroom. Manchin was aware of Khanna’s remarks and thanked him, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

  • And if he cuts a deal, House progressives almost certainly will be forced to swallow it.

In private, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has counseled her House colleagues not to insult Manchin, Democrats say. And she has spoken positively about her relationship with the West Virginia Democrat, who gave her a statue of a coal miner this year in a gesture toward their efforts to help those workers with their pension problems, according to a person who heard her remarks.

While Democrats are uncertain where Manchin will come down, they are far more reassured that Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — the other leading moderate — will ultimately back the sweeping expansion of the social safety net. Many of Sinema’s concerns — namely opposing raising corporate and individual tax rates and slicing down the initial $3.5 trillion price tag — have already been addressed.

A closed-door meeting of House and Senate Democrats late last month in the Senate, between Jayapal, Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse along with Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, went a long way toward reassuring progressives that Sinema will ultimately vote for the package, according to multiple Democrats. Democrats say that the distrust between the two wings — which stalled action on the President’s agenda for months — is slowly starting to ease. Indeed, it was a late-night deal-making session between a handful of House moderates and progressives that paved the way for passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that Biden plans to sign into law Monday.

“The last few weeks have been eventful,” said Neguse, a progressive Democrat who also attended the meeting with Manchin along with Khanna, Cuellar and two centrist House Democrats, and has spoken repeatedly with Sinema as well. “It’s important to de-escalate the situation,” another Democrat said, referring to progressives’ war of words with Manchin.

A late-night deal and Biden’s warning To get Manchin ultimately on board, Democrats are mostly leaving it up to Biden, who has been in direct conversations with the senator for months. And they say the President should use the same kind of persuasiveness he employed in getting liberals to support final passage of the infrastructure bill, which they had held up for more than a month as they demanded the larger proposal be approved at the same time.

“That really woke people up,” one source said. Biden faced a flurry of questions from a range of progressives, from Bush to Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, but he sought to reassure all of them that the moderates in both chambers would ultimately fall in line.

And at one point, the President suggested that if they couldn’t trust him and wouldn’t get behind the infrastructure bill last Friday, then they should just abandon the entire agenda, according to four sources familiar with his remarks. As he addressed the Congressional Progressive Caucus on speakerphone last Friday night and urged the House liberals to separate the two bills and support the infrastructure package, Biden urged the caucus to trust his ability to deliver the needed 50 Democratic votes in the Senate — including Manchin’s — to get the Build Back Better plan through.