West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said Monday that he still considers himself a Democrat even after he defied his party by torpedoing a key piece of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.
In a wide-ranging interview with West Virginia Radio, Manchin, a moderate and key swing vote in the Senate, was asked whether there is still a place for him in the party, to which he replied, “Well, I think.”
“I would like to hope that there are still Democrats that feel like I do. … I’m socially – I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate,” he said. “Now, if there’s no Democrats like that, then they’ll have to push me wherever they want me.”
Manchin and Biden had a cordial conversation Sunday night and discussed reengaging in the new year, according to a person briefed on the conversation. No commitments were made during the discussion.
The senator had announced Sunday that he could not support Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a sweeping economic and climate bill that required his support in order for it to pass in the Senate, where Democrats have an ultra-slim majority. The move stoked widespread outrage among progressives, many of whom questioned his allegiance to the party and wondered if he might drop his affiliation after he thwarted one of Democrats’ major legislative priorities.
Manchin on Monday strongly defended his rationale for effectively sinking the legislation in its current form, saying he’s been clear that the proposal is too unwieldy and lacks “accountability” measures to limit its benefits – and he pointedly blamed White House staff for their handling of the talks.
“I’m not blaming anybody, I knew where they were, and I knew what they could and could not do. They just never realized it, because they figured surely to God we can move one person,” Manchin said.
“Surely we can badger and beat one person up, surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they’ll just say: ‘Ok, I’ll vote for anything, just quit.’ Well guess what, I’m from West Virginia, I’m not from where they’re from, and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive. Period.”
The White House’s handling of their negotiations was “so staff-driven,” Manchin said, adding that “I understand staff is not the President. This is staff. And they drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is and that’s it.”
Manchin also criticized Democrats for approaching legislation as if they had a larger majority than the 50-50 Senate, in which Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote would help the party pass bills.
“Think about it. So this is what’s happening. So I said, ‘Don’t you think we have to take another approach … We’re in a 50-50 Senate and you all are approaching legislation as if you have 55 or 60 senators that are Democrats, and you can do whatever you want,’ ” he said.
Manchin also pushed back on the idea that he hasn’t been clear on where he stood, defending himself after the White House issued a damning statement later Sunday alleging that his comments were “at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.”
“I was at $1.5 from the beginning,” Manchin during his radio interview, referring to $1.5 trillion as an overall price tag for the package. “I gave (Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer exactly the philosophical beliefs and the amount of money that I thought we could raise and pay for everything. So they’ve had that from Day 1, on July 2020, of this year. He’s had that.”
“Now, he never shared it with anybody,” he added. “Now they’re saying I never told anybody. I said, ‘my goodness, everyone’s known, I’ve spoken so many times on television. And telling people where I am.’ ”
Manchin indicated on Monday that he would not quickly get behind a scaled-back version of the plan, arguing that it should instead go through the committee process before trying to move it through the Senate via the filibuster-proof reconciliation process. That position foreshadows grim prospects for Biden’s hopes of getting even a narrow plan through Congress.
This story has been updated with additional details Monday.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.