West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin will skip the meeting, designed to unify the party against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, arguing in an interview with CNN that it would only serve to poison any efforts for bipartisanship in the new Congress.
Manchin has always been somewhat of a thorn in the Obama administration's side — and as a Democrat running for re-election in 2018 in a state President-elect Donald Trump won by 42 percentage points, there was no question that would continue. But his willingness to skip the meeting underscores that Capitol Hill Democrats aren't entirely unified in their opposition.
Manchin was also critical of Vice President-elect Mike Pence's dueling visit with Capitol Hill Republicans, saying it would have a similar effect to Obama's — especially so soon after the start of the new Congress.
"Just the second day up here, can you imagine?" Manchin asked.
Senate Republicans have already started the process to repeal Obama's signature health care law, the Affordable Care act, a cornerstone of his domestic achievements, and the debate is expected to start on that effort as soon as today.
But it's being done through a process called reconciliation, which will allow Republicans to repeal large swaths of the law with just 51 votes, as opposed to the 60 it would traditionally take to move legislation in the chamber. That, Manchin said, is a problem for the Democrats — he said he's identified around ten — who stand willing to work with Republicans to make changes to the law.
While Manchin said he'll work across the aisle, taking a purely partisan path to repeal and expecting Democratic help — which the GOP will need — is likely to push other likeminded Democrats further away from negotiations, he predicted. More importantly, he said, it would also put the onus entirely — and immediately — on the GOP to ensure limited or no disruptions in coverage.
"You break it, you own it," Manchin said.
In separate interview Wednesday afternoon, Manchin told CNN he's hoping to speak with Vice President-elect Mike Pence soon specifically on the issue of how to replace Obamacare.
"They're trying to tell us, just vote to repeal," Manchin said on Capitol Hill, just hours after Pence spoke to reporters following his meeting with GOP senators. "I can't do that. And I've not seen a replacement. I've been here for six years and haven't seen a replacement yet. So I would like to see what's, you know. I know that Vice President Pence, he basically expanded Medicaid protection, Medicaid expansion in Indiana. How can you expand it on one hand, and have to go back and say we're repealing it."
Manchin and Pence were expected to meet around 2:15 p.m. ET.