joe manchin bernie sanders SPLIT
CNN  — 

There’s an unwritten rule in the Senate that no senator from your own party should try to mess with you in your state. Which is what makes what Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders did on Friday very interesting – and potentially explosive.

Sanders took to the pages of West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail to make the case for an expansive version of President Joe Biden’s social safety net legislation, which would rethink the role for the government in everything from immigration to the environment and back.

“Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation,” wrote Sanders. “Yet, the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote ‘yes.’ We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.”

Whoa boy.

Manchin immediately shot back with this: “This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state.”

But, wait there was more! “Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs,” added Manchin. “No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that.”

While that might not seem like much to you, for the obsessively polite Senate, that level of personal back-and-forth is roughly the equivalent of the Squid Game. And while it may the most personal Sanders and Manchin have been, it’s far from the first time the two men have taken their disagreements about the Biden agenda public in recent weeks.

“I can’t speak for Mr. Manchin. I’m not a psychologist,” Sanders said on CNN earlier this month when asked about Manchin’s ongoing opposition to the social safety net legislation and its proposed $3.5 trillion price tag.

Manchin has given as well as he has gotten. Asked about his opposition to a broader bill with a higher price tag, the West Virginia Democrat responded: “I don’t believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society. I think that we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society.”

To which Sanders then offered this: “[Senator] Manchin has a right to fight for his point of view, has not only a right to be heard, he has a right to get some compromises. He’s a member of the Senate. But two people do not have the right to sabotage what 48 want, and what the President of the United States wants. That to me is wrong.”

On Monday, Manchin shot back, again, at Sanders. “There’s 52 senators who don’t agree, OK, and there’s two that want to work something out if possible in a most rational reasonable way,” he said.

And as CNN’s Manu Raju reported earlier this month, Biden equated getting the two men in the same room with “homicide” after liberal Rep. Ro Khanna (California) suggested doing just that in hopes of hashing out a compromise.

Both men insist that their disagreements are not personal – or taken as such. But to believe that, you have to believe that all politics isn’t personal, which, decades of evidence makes clear, it is.

It’s not at all clear how the tension plays out. Democrats – up to and including Manchin and Sanders – believe that the party must find a way to pass parts of Biden’s agenda. Manchin prefers that Congress pass the $1.2 trillion “hard infrastructure plan,” which has already been approved by a bipartisan Senate majority, first. Sanders wants the larger safety net bill passed – for fear that if the hard infrastructure bills goes through, moderates like Manchin may walk away from a larger bill altogether.

What’s more, the two men’s opposing stances are good for their politics back home. Vermont is among the most progressive states in the country and Sanders’ advocacy for more government spending will be greeted with plaudits in the state. Manchin, on the other hand, represents a state Donald Trump won by 39(!) points in 2020. The conservatism of the state’s electorate makes Manchin’s role as a break on the policies being pushed by the likes of Sanders a winning one, political speaking, in the state.

The simple fact is this: Sanders and Manchin are never going to agree on the breadth – and cost – of the social safety net legislation. The key for Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other deal-minded Democrats is to find a way to lower the temperature between them.