It took years for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to become the GOP’s favorite Senate Democrat, with Republicans recently praising him for no less than “Saving the Country” and “the american way of lifeabout his refusal to follow much of his party’s agenda.
And it only took one afternoon for Republicans to turn on the West Virginia wild card senator and call him just another crony of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Last week, Manchin did the one thing Republicans — and some Democrats — all thought he wouldn’t do: He made a deal.
Only a few minutes after the Senate passed a high-tech manufacturing bill—one that Republicans had threatened to suspend if Manchin miraculously reached an agreement with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on a climate, health care and tax measure—Manchin and Schumer announced that they had done the unthinkable.
And suddenly, the senator the GOP once lauded for keeping the country from going down a path to, in their view, disaster suddenly jumped into the driver’s seat — and he had done so secretly.
On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — who last year told reporters, “God bless” Manchin — told The Daily Beast that he appreciated Manchin “holding the line” on keeping the filibuster, of the limit of 60 votes of the Senate. they pass laws. But Graham stressed that Manchin is pushing a “badly conceived idea” that “makes no sense.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who last year reportedly urged GOP senators to strategically praise Manchin and has been open to other Manchin parties — said at a news conference Tuesday that his colleague in the West Virginia made a “terrible deal.”
“How he can defend that is amazing,” McConnell said. “This is a deal that only Bernie Sanders would love.”
For Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Manchin’s move seemed to elicit at least four of the five stages of grief. When Manchin faced intense criticism from Democrats last year, Cornyn regularly defended his colleague to his 350,000 Twitter followers. In December, Cornyn admitted to sending private messages to Manchin to ask if he would attend the GOP convention, calling the prospect “the greatest Christmas present” he could imagine.
But after Manchin signed his deal, Cornyn took to the Senate floor to lash out at an “Olympic-sized flip flop” from the Democratic senator.
Since the weekend, Cornyn has tweeted more than a dozen times about Mnuchin’s decision, questioning his analysis of the economic data, accusing him of “reticence” and claiming he had “whipped” President Joe Biden in a state where he did not is very popular.
In a tweet, Cornyn twisted the knife by citing what Republicans considered Manchin’s most courageous moment.
“Manchin is trying to pretend he killed the BBB,” he said, referring to Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better agenda, “but he actually agreed to the Green New Deal.”
In scope and size, the package Manchin ultimately brokered falls far short of the Green New Deal or Build Back Better, which invested hundreds of billions of dollars more in climate and energy measures. The new legislation, which was quickly given a friendly mid-term name — the Lower Inflation Act — is nonetheless a major package of tax hikes for the wealthy, $300 billion in climate investments and reforms to lower prescription drug costs .
Republicans believe that even this more moderate package would be disastrous for the economy, given two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, persistent inflation and widespread fears that the US economy is slipping into recession. Many are holding out hope that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will play a Manchin-like role here. Arizona’s centrist has yet to sign the Manchin-Schumer deal, and her opposition would sink the plan because Democrats intend to pass the bill entirely with Democratic votes using a special budget process.
But when it comes to Manchin, “the gloves are off,” said a senior GOP aide.
“Manchin held the line on the filibuster and the BBB,” the senior Republican aide continued. “But in the end, it almost always ends up where Schumer wants it. Republicans were hoping that wouldn’t happen in this one.”
The fallout for Manchin will reverberate beyond Capitol Hill. In West Virginia, the conservative Democrat has always walked a delicate political balancing act. But his deal could fray the rope even further. A potentially stacked GOP challenger could face the Democrat when he faces his 2024 re-election bid and several potential candidates they have already begun to pound him to reach an agreement.
Some Senate Democrats had a simple answer to Manchin’s GOP woes. “They’re mad that we found a compromise,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “And they’re going to say what they think is helpful to their cause, which is to kill this legislation.”
When asked about the GOP criticism during a press availability Tuesday, Manchin himself was magnanimous. “They’re still my friends,” he said of his Republican colleagues. “I love them all.”
The vehemence of Republican attacks on Manchin appeared to be rooted in their belief that Manchin was fundamentally opposed to such a deal. Although the senator has remained at the negotiating table for more than a year, his insistence that inflation concerns drive his position on any major legislation has convinced Republicans that Manchin likely won’t agree to anything major.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told the Daily Beast he was surprised Manchin got the yes vote. “Both Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema have been publicly willing to stand out there and make a difference in certain areas, like the rules,” Blunt said. “But, you know, legislation is a fluid process.”
Several Democratic lawmakers implied — or outright said — that Democratic leaders simply tricked him. Powerful former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers reportedly called Manchin repeatedly to assure him the proposal would not increase inflation, a detail that has led some Republicans to question how he reached his conclusions about the legislation’s impact.
Other Republicans were harsh in their assessment of Manchin’s role. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who worked with Manchin a decade ago on a major gun reform measure, said Sunday that he was “taken to the cleaners.”
But Manchin strongly defended his position that the legislation would, in fact, begin to moderate the economic trend that has eroded Americans’ purchasing power. He went on all five major Sunday political talk shows over the weekend to play down the bill’s tax hikes on the wealthy and tout its provisions to increase energy production.
Jonathan Cote, a former Mnuchin aide, expressed surprise that “Republicans are upset with him for agreeing to a bill he said for months he was working on,” particularly one that includes Republican priorities such as reducing the federal government’s debt .
The GOP backlash, Kott said, “will not stop [Manchin] from working with his good friends in the hallway class in the future.”
Indeed, even amid Republican frustration with Manchin, few GOP lawmakers were willing to get rid of him entirely. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who has been friends with Manchin for two decades, credited him and Sinema for opposing the Democrats’ plans last year and said he respected Manchin’s decisions.
“In this case, coming forward, he thinks he’s made a good deal. Time will tell,” Rounds said. “I respect him. But I think in this particular case, they might have sold him a bill of goods.”
Other Republican lawmakers believe it won’t be long before Manchin is back in their good graces. Asked about Manchin’s change, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) joked, “He’s dead to us!”
While calling his friend’s deal a “major aberration,” Cramer suggested his GOP colleagues sometimes forget something important. “Once in a while, Joe reminds us that he’s a Democrat,” he said. “But the reason it’s frustrating is because it’s so often with us, and we have to remember that.”
Although Cramer predicted that Manchin’s move could strain relations for “a little bit,” he predicted that Republicans will overcome it.
“Joe has a kind of remarkable way of building bridges,” he said, “more so than burning them.”
—with reporting by Ursula Perano