A moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia is suddenly one of the most powerful people in Washington — and he’s become a big problem for President Joe Biden and his leftist agenda.
Sen. Joe Manchin has had multiple one-on-one phone calls with Biden. He can send the White House into a tailspin with a single five-minute interview or three-sentence statement. And he may have already derailed some of the administration’s policy priorities and a Cabinet nominee.
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And it’s not just Manchin who’s wielding outsize influence over Biden’s agenda. With a 50-50 split in the Senate leaving little room for error on tough votes, other moderate Democrats like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana also hold significant political clout in Biden’s Washington, making for a troublesome counterweight to the far-Left who make up the party’s base.
“Each and every one of these members has the ability to be the king- or queen-maker on Capitol Hill,” said Jim Manley, a longtime aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “If they stick together, and flex their muscles — especially given the tight margins in both the House and the Senate — they can have a real impact.”
Biden’s first month in office has won praise from some of his most prominent former rivals on the far-Left like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Now it’s the moderates who are creating headaches for the Democratic president.
Late last week, Manchin all but tanked the Biden administration’s nominee for Office of Management and Budget director, Neera Tanden, when he issued a brief statement opposing her nomination because of her controversial tweets attacking Republicans. Tanden had tried to delete the tweets before her confirmation hearing.
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Tanden’s prospects for approval immediately sank. Political observers are also waiting to see if Manchin will support Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy, whom he opposed in 2014.
A few weeks back, Manchin created a stir when he publicly criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for doing a TV interview with a local West Virginia station that was seen as an effort to pressure him to support the COVID-19 bill. He received a call from the White House shortly after his complaint to try to smooth things over.
Manchin is one of a handful of centrist Democrats who have expressed skepticism about Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, threatening to derail the president’s top priority if they don’t win concessions. Manchin, Sinema, and Tester have all called for more targeted aid for Americans, and they, along with five other centrist Democrats and seven Republicans, all signed onto an amendment barring “upper-income taxpayers” from being eligible to receive stimulus checks.
Manchin and Sinema also oppose Biden’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, likely ensuring that it’s removed from the final COVID-19 bill even if the Senate parliamentarian rules it can be included.
They’ve also both drawn the ire of far-Left voters for their refusal to support eliminating the 60-vote threshold for approving most legislation, with one radical progressive group threatening to recruit primary challengers to oppose them.
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Moderates are certain to influence the Biden administration’s next expensive legislative push as well, a major infrastructure and jobs bill that will include massive spending on so-called “green energy.” Manchin and others from rural states want to see money commitments for rural infrastructure and investments to offset any oil and gas industry job losses.
The Associated Press contributed to this article