'No idea what he's doing': Manchin perplexes with Covid aid power play

Manchin’s oversized influence has dwarfed the Senate since the day the Democrats captured their scant 50:50 majority. He has already derailed a cabinet candidate and led the opposition to a minimum wage of $ 15, despite the fact that party leaders have been pushing for it. But Friday was Manchin’s epitome: the centrist Democrat paralyzed the entire Senate for more than 10 hours and threatened to join Republicans who wanted to cut unemployment benefits for weeks.

In the end, it took a direct call from President Biden, a meeting with Schumer, and significant concessions to get Manchin on board. He has cut unemployment benefits for several weeks due to Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) Compromise change from earlier in the day and added a cap of $ 150,000 to the proposal’s tax deduction for unemployment benefits of up to $ 10,200.

Manchin had indicated earlier this week that he would campaign for the aid debate. In an interview, he suggested that the economy should open by June or July as vaccines continue to spread and the coronavirus wears off. And he was worried about paying people an extra $ 1,000 a month to stay at home.

“We want people to work again. It will be difficult for us to prepare people to get back in to keep the economy going, ”he said on Tuesday. “It would be terrible if the doors opened and nobody worked. … That’s the problem.”

The episode puzzled Democrats, who said Manchin had threatened a generally acceptable compromise that would extend unemployment benefits through September and make those benefits non-taxable. This earlier deal also reduced the weekly benefit from $ 400 to $ 300, as Manchin had sought.

Manchin’s dug Friday also revealed a rare rift between him and his temperate ally in Arizona. Unlike Manchin, Sinema wanted to extend unemployment benefits after August and raised the issue in a private caucus appeal this week, according to a source in the appeal. In addition to Tester, she could be heard on the floor when she tried to convince Manchin to follow Carper’s suggestion.

When a roll-call vote on the minimum wage remained open and hours passed, Manchin flirted with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and his proposal to cut unemployment bonuses in July. Manchin had spoken with the Ohio Republican for more than a week and previously committed to his amendment, according to sources familiar with the matter. Portman and the Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) Struggled to get Manchin’s support while Republicans urged him to stay strong.

Portman spoke to Manchin and Sinema several times on Friday, with Manchin then going back to the Democrats and asking for concessions, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Though Manchin’s brand is bipartisan, its eleventh hour of alliance with the GOP can hurt its credibility across the aisle.

“To give in at this point would raise all sorts of questions. What did they give you Why did you give in At the moment it is definitely not looking good, ”said Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) Shortly before Manchin and his party reached an agreement.

Still, as Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) Put it, Manchin “is always as comfortable as he is. I am not worried about him. He’ll do what Joe thinks is right. “

But for Democrats, their 50th vote with Republicans wasn’t a tasty option. Manchin’s party was concerned about getting the final passage “without seriously breaking the bill,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Not to mention that Portman’s change “isn’t a good thing in the context of the Congressional plan,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Pointing out that additional benefits will expire in July.

“That would not be good for the people,” said Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) of the prospect of Manchin on the Republican side. “He has a right to it. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t frustrated by it. “

Earlier this week there were signs that moderate Democrats would have an issue with the Covid bill’s added benefits to unemployment insurance. Some of them had a phone call to Biden on Monday to talk about how some of the law’s economic relief can be scaled back. Carper and Manchin attempted to change the House-approved weekly payment from $ 400 to $ 300, while Manchin was already pushing to limit the bill’s $ 1,400 stimulus checks entirely to $ 80,000 per year .

But Manchin’s dramatic play on Friday even puzzled his West Virginia counterpart, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). The governor of their state had urged Congress to get bigger, not smaller.

“I have no idea what he’s doing, to be completely honest,” she said. “Maybe you can tell me.”

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