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‘No idea what he’s doing’: Manchin puzzled with Covid Aid power play

Manchin’s outsized influence has cast a shadow over the Senate since the day the Democrats captured their meager 50-50 majority. He once derailed a cabinet candidate and led the opposition to a federal minimum wage of $ 15 even as his party leaders pushed for it. But Friday was Manchin’s most defining moment: the centrist Democrat paralyzed the entire Senate for more than 10 hours and threatened to side with Republicans seeking to cut weeks of unemployment benefits.

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

Manchin had hinted earlier in the week that he would exert his influence on the relief debate. In an interview, he suggested that by June or July, the economy should open up as vaccines become widespread and the coronavirus recedes. And he worried about paying people over $ 1,000 more a month to stay home.

“We want people to go back to work. We’re going to have a hard time preparing people to come back to keep the economy going, ”he said on Tuesday. “It would be horrible for the doors to open and no one to work. … This is the problem.”

The episode puzzled Democrats, who said Manchin was threatening what they saw as a universally acceptable compromise extending unemployment payments until September and making those benefits tax-free. This earlier deal also reduced weekly profit from $ 400 to $ 300, as Manchin had researched.

Manchin’s hack on Friday also revealed a rare rift between him and his moderate Arizona ally. Unlike Manchin, Sinema wanted to extend unemployment benefits beyond August and raised the issue during a call to a private caucus this week, according to a source on the call. She could also be heard on the floor, alongside Tester, trying to convince Manchin to accept Carper’s offer.

As the recorded vote on the minimum wage remained open and hours passed, Manchin flirted with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and his proposal to remove unemployment bonuses in July. Portman and Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) worked to gain Manchin’s support as Republicans urged him to stay strong.

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

Although Manchin’s brand is bipartisan, his eleventh-hour alliance with the GOP may tarnish his credibility across the aisle.

“To give in at this point would raise all kinds of questions. What did they give you? Why did you give in? There’s no way at this point it looks good, ”said Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) Shortly before Manchin and his party came to an agreement.

Yet, as Senator Richard Burr (RN.C.) put it, Manchin is “still comfortable the way he is. I don’t worry about him. He will do what Joe thinks is right.

But for Democrats, their 50th vote alongside Republicans was not an acceptable option. Manchin’s party worried about getting to the final passage “without seriously harming the bill,” Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) Said.

Not to mention the fact that the Portman change “is not a good thing in the context of the congressional calendar,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Referring to the expiration of the additional benefits in July. .

“It wouldn’t be good for the people,” Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said of the prospect of Manchin siding with the Republicans. “There is a right. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us wouldn’t be frustrated about it.

There were signs earlier in the week that moderate Democrats would have a problem with the additional UI benefits from the Covid bill. Several of them held a call with Biden on Monday to talk about cutting some of the bill’s economic relief. Carper and Manchin have sought to change the House-approved $ 400 weekly payment to $ 300, where it currently sits, while Manchin was already pushing to completely eliminate the $ 1,400 stimulus checks from the People’s Bill. who earn $ 80,000 per year.

But Manchin’s drama on Friday puzzled even her West Virginia counterpart, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.). The governor of their state had pushed Congress to get bigger, not smaller.

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

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