Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin secreted themselves in a basement room at the Capitol.
The two men had been wrestling for more than a year in long, failed rounds of start-and-stop negotiations over President Joe Biden’s big rebuilding America package. But talks had jammed up — again. With the midterm elections near, control of Congress at stake, the president and his party were at the end of the line.
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Just four days earlier, Manchin had issued his latest ultimatum: Either scale back the ambitious proposal by dropping the climate change provisions that were so important to Biden and his party, or wait until September to try to pass any bill at all, giving the economy’s shocking 9.1% inflation a chance to cool.
With all avenues with his colleague exhausted, Schumer signaled to Biden they needed to do whatever they could before lawmakers left town for the summer break. From the White House, Biden had announced that it was time to make a deal.
And Manchin faced his own political pressures. Outraged colleagues openly criticized his tactics as insincere — whispering, even, that the West Virginia senator should have his gavel taken away as a committee chairman. The coal state conservative was being publicly singled out, shamed even, as the sole figure stopping help for a planet in peril.
Ahead of the basement meeting, Manchin put a new offer on the table.
Details were slim that Monday afternoon 10 days ago, but the size and scope shocked Schumer’s team and, most importantly, included the commitment to vote by the August recess. This account is from several people familiar with the private conversations, and granted anonymity to discuss them.
The two men shook hands, and agreed to start talking — again.
“What a beautiful office,” Schumer wondered aloud in the Capitol basement room. “Is it mine?”
What happened next was a weeklong negotiation, largely out of sight, to produce the $739 billion surprise package now headed for quick votes in Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.