Progressives Learn a Hard Lesson From Joe Manchin: Don’t Compromise

Progressives Learn a Hard Lesson From Joe Manchin: Don’t Compromise 1

For months, House progressives warned Democratic leaders and the White House that they did not trust Sen. Joe Manchin.

Progressive members didn’t think the West Virginia Democrat would stick to his word on passing President Joe Biden’s signature social spending bill, the Build Back Better Act, and they weren’t sure Biden could actually get Manchin to come around.

It appears they were right.

Over the weekend, following months of negotiations and concessions from his Democratic colleagues, Manchin declared as definitively as he could that he was a “no” on the legislation. The bill’s framework had shrunk from $6 trillion to $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, in large part due to Manchin’s grievances, and the measure was already shorn of some of its most progressive policies. And yet, Democrats still couldn’t get the moderate senator on board.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus even conceded on a pivotal procedural demand that the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Build Back Better be passed together, banking that Biden could convince Manchin to come around.

“Progressives stretched and stretched and compromised and accepted assurances… Things that historically progressives have not been willing to do. And here we are,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told The Daily Beast on Monday.

It now appears Manchin’s cooperation could not actually be guaranteed by Democratic leaders—even as they assured progressives otherwise.

And that is a lesson progressives are unlikely to forget.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) was one of six House Democrats to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure deal in November, expressing concern over decoupling the infrastructure bill from the Build Back Better Act.

Bowman said although his fellow progressives “were hesitant this time around” to make a deal, they did so because they wanted to support the president.

And now, Bowman said, future dealmaking might take a hit over that broken trust.

“It’s going to be difficult to just take anyone’s word for anything,” especially when dealing with Manchin, Bowman told The Daily Beast.

The congressman remains hopeful that Build Back Better—or something similar—will wiggle its way through the Senate. “I’m not giving up hope,” he said.

But it seems as if progressives will have new pause when they’re asked to go along with some White House or Democratic leadership gambit to attract moderate votes—or, of more immediate concern, to accept yet another compromise to get Manchin to change his mind on Build Back Better.

In a sign that the bill Manchin killed is not quite dead, Biden and Manchin talked Sunday night and, according to Politico, agreed to continue talking about the legislation next year.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Manchin offered to support a bill last week that was roughly $1.8 trillion, retained most of the $500 billion in climate change provisions, funded universal pre-K education, and supported an expansion of Obamacare. What his offer did not include, however, was the expanded Child Tax Credit—a cornerstone of the legislation for progressives and the White House that provides hundreds of dollars every month to parents in low- and middle-income homes.

While progressives may eventually end up with a bill largely looking like the one dictated by Manchin, it was clear Monday that they weren’t there yet, especially after the West Virginia Democrat’s antics.

Rather than teaching progressives a valuable lesson about compromise, Manchin’s hardball tactics seem to have emboldened them to dig in more.

On a call with reporters Monday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) suggested she would push the Biden administration to take executive action rather than coming back to the negotiating table with Manchin.

“It is abundantly clear that we cannot trust what Sen. Manchin says,” Jayapal said. “No one should think that we are going to be satisfied with an even smaller package that leaves people behind or refuses to tackle critical issues like climate change.”

If Build Back Better truly fails, Huffman said those who refused to accept assurances about passing the Build Back Better Act, like Bowman and other members of the so-called Squad, “will to some degree be vindicated.”

In other words, the takeaway from Manchin blowing up the bill is that progressives should be a lot less trusting of leaders and less willing to settle.

That doesn’t mean progressives think they erred in their approach to Build Back Better, though.


Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is followed by reporters as he leaves a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats.

Anna Moneymaker

Jayapal suggested Monday there wasn’t much different that progressives could have done to get the bill passed. She said progressives hit an inflection point on the bipartisan package, and that they simply had to pass the infrastructure legislation.

“Had we not passed the infrastructure bill, I actually think that that would have been the day that [Manchin] said, ‘The Build Back Better Act is done.’ I think he would have walked away, and I think he would have walked away from potentially both of them,” she said.

Jayapal said she has no regrets about that decision to concede on the infrastructure deal. But she added that, in the future, what is “going to be difficult is to take anybody’s word that something is going to get done.”

“We did rely on the president’s word that he had a commitment from Joe Manchin—and I have said I don’t believe the President lied about that. I think that was accurate,” Jayapal said. “And so, I think if the President of the United States cannot rely upon the commitment of a member of his own party, obviously, that’s a problem. And it’s going to be a problem going forward.”

Congresswoman Marie Newman (D-IL), another CPC member, told The Daily Beast that Manchin “clearly did not keep his promise” and that she expects progressives will be especially “suspicious” of Manchin going forward.

“No one really understands the game he’s playing,” she said.

As for the fate of Build Back Better, members aren’t quite ready to give up and have floated various ideas on how to reconcile the ambitious agenda in the face of a Senate stalemate.

Even Huffman suggested there was a shelf-life to Manchin’s declarations. “Joe Manchin statements are like a carton of milk,” he said.

Still, it’s abundantly clear Democrats won’t be able to reconcile their differences before Christmas or any time soon after—if they ever do at all.

“While it is disappointing that we may not have a law by the end of the year, we are hopeful that we will soon reach agreement so that this vital legislation can pass as soon as possible next year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a dear colleague letter Sunday night.

Failing to pass Build Back Better will foremost mean a lapse in the child tax credit, which has lifted millions of American children out of poverty.

Nonetheless, Jayapal remains confident that progressives maximized their influence over these outcomes.

“That’s what happens in every negotiation. You do have to rely on the word, ultimately, with assurances, and different kinds of assurances, and you make judgments about where you are. And good people can disagree on those judgments. They can disagree on the tactics,” she said.

“But,” she added, “I think there’s no question that we, the Progressive Caucus, in many ways singularly held up the legislation to the point of maximum leverage. I guess there are people that could disagree with that, but that’s what I believe. And I think we’ll continue to do that.”