The White House is still bewildered over why Manchin walked away from Build Back Better

The White House is still bewildered over why Manchin walked away from Build Back Better
President Joe Biden speaks to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on May 9, 2022.Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • White House aides are still perplexed over Manchin's decision to walk away from Build Back Better, according to The Washington Post.
  • Manchin blamed White House staff for issuing a statement he claimed jeopardized his family's safety.

The White House remains perplexed over why Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia walked away from negotiations on their economic agenda late last year when a deal seemed to be at hand, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

It stems from events during the final stretch of December as it appeared Manchin and Biden were close to an agreement before the conservative West Virginia senator suddenly announced his opposition to the plan. The newspaper cited three dozen interviews with White House officials, Congressional aides, and lawmakers, among others.

After discussions that dragged through the fall, Manchin produced a $1.8 trillion offer that included many pieces of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan. His skepticism about the size and scope of the plan had only grown as inflation started to worsen.

His proposal brought him closer to the amount that the White House sought while Biden agreed to cut temporary spending programs, given Manchin's concern that short-term funding proposals camouflaged the bill's true price tag if those were renewed later.

The Biden administration didn't promptly accept Manchin's proposal since it dropped a child allowance most Democrats wanted to extend and included tax increases that risked the opposition of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Instead, White House aides viewed it as the starting point to keep trying to iron out an agreement with the centrist holdout.


But Manchin abruptly ended discussions with Biden. Manchin privately railed to a senior Biden aide against a a Dec. 16 statement he said cast the spotlight on him and claimed it jeopardized his family's safety. Manchin allies said the West Virginia Democrat's family faced credible threats and liberal protests at the time, the Post reported.

Manchin later sunk the House-approved Build Back Better bill in a Fox News interview on Dec. 19, citing its potential to worsen inflation and further swell the national debt. Every Senate Democrat, including Manchin, would have needed to back the plan to advance it over unified GOP resistance in the 50-50 chamber.

A day later, he laid part of the blame on White House staff without elaborating. "This is not the president. This is the staff," Manchin said in a radio interview. "And they drove some things, and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is, and that's it."

The Dec. 16 statement from Biden said Manchin had "reiterated his support" for a large Build Back Better plan and said discussions would continue, given the arduous process of finalizing legislation and bringing it to the Senate floor.

The president's aides still seem mystified that a statement they viewed as harmless would enrage Manchin to the extent that it did. Biden later privately criticized Manchin's intent to cut a deal at all, the Post reported.


Negotiations on a smaller bill were largely on the back-burner for Democrats in the spring with Manchin saying they would be "starting from scratch" in the future.

Meanwhile, Manchin had grown frustrated over attempts from other Democrats last year to advance priorities he was not willing to support, like a paid leave program that was reintroduced in the House.

A White House spokesperson told the Post that Biden and Manchin are "longtime friends who share fundamental values about standing up for middle class families and a fair tax code."

"The president is eager to pass a reconciliation bill that takes on inflation and lowers many of the biggest costs Americans face," the spokesperson said.

Negotiations are ongoing between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer over a smaller version of the spending bill. They've met three times in the past month to draw up a package that could meet the West Virginia Democrat's narrow parameters of support.