Joe Manchin chose a notable time and place to flip the bird to his party
Also: Minnesota debate shows how the big lie has become a litmus test for GOP candidates.
With the country on edge over an omicron-driven spike of Covid cases and the holidays right around the corner, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) decided to go on Fox News and drive a dagger into President Joe Biden’s agenda. Merry Christmas!
Sometimes the medium is the message. And the message Manchin sent on Fox News Sunday was a double bird not only to the president who he vowed in February he would help make “successful” but also to his own party and constituents.
Manchin went on the first edition of Fox News Sunday following Chris Wallace’s abrupt departure and, after months of Democrats bending over backward to accommodate his every whim, said he wouldn’t support what would’ve been Biden’s signature piece of legislation — the ”Build Back Better” bill, a roughly $1.75 trillion safety net enhancement and climate bill that includes universal pre-K, child tax credits, cost reductions for prescription drugs, clean energy incentives, and more.
“This is a no on this legislation,” the conservative Democrat told Bret Baier, seemingly ending with a whimper months of legislative wrangling.
To justify his position, Manchin trotted out his familiar talking points about how he’s concerned that BBB will exacerbate inflation (economists say it wouldn’t) and increase the national debt (it would by roughly $160 billion, but analysts also note that it would increase growth and pay for desperately needed programs).
But the optics of his announcement — coming as it did with little heads up to the White House, on a news channel best known as a mouthpiece for Trumpism — perhaps said more than anything that came out of Manchin’s mouth. Although in fairness, considering that Trump carried West Virginia last year by nearly 40 points, a significant chunk of Manchin’s constituency likely watches Fox and supports the former president.
Manchin’s announcement sent shockwaves through the political world and generated a lot of anger among progressives who thought the bipartisan infrastructure bill Biden recently signed into law was part of a package including BBB. Less than an hour after the fateful Fox hit, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) went on CNN and blasted Manchin, noting how much BBB would help West Virginians and saying, “we've been dealing with Mr. Manchin for month after month after month. But if he doesn't have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”
That was followed a short time later by a scathing statement from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in which she more or less called Manchin a liar, noting that his comments on Fox “are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.”
“Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework ‘in good faith.’”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham, meanwhile, praised Manchin for effectively punishing states that enact public health measures to deal with spiking Covid cases.
While Manchin’s announcement was cheered by Trump supporters looking to kneecap Biden’s presidency, it was bad news for the American economy, as growth expectations were promptly downgraded.
Manchin’s comments seemed pretty categorial, but some observers still believe if BBB cannot be salvaged, Dems might still be able to pass a smaller bill funding some of the programs that would’ve been part in it.
There is no doubt that at least in the short term, however, Sunday’s news is a major blow for Democratic constituencies heading into a midterm election cycle that was already shaping up to be difficult.
So it’s worth taking a look at the political forces Manchin is enabling by torpedoing his own party.
Minnesota Republicans kowtow to the big lie
Minnesota isn’t a particularly Trumpy place. It was the only state that Marco Rubio won during the 2016 Republican primary (Rubio also won DC and Puerto Rico). Trump invested a lot of time and energy into the state during each of his general campaigns, but lost there twice anyway, and last year, Joe Biden carried the state by a relatively comfortable margin of more than seven points.
In other words, if the Republican Party is to move past Trumpism anytime soon, Minnesota would be a likely place for a post-Trump movement to emerge. And yet a Republican gubernatorial debate that took place last Wednesday illustrated how paying lip service to the big lie is a prerequisite to staying in good standing with the party — even in a state where the former president isn’t especially popular.
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About 10 minutes in, moderator Hugh Hewitt asked each of the five candidates on stage some variation of the same question: Did Joe Biden actually win the 2020 election?
Not a single one of them was willing to acknowledge the reality that Biden in fact did.
The first candidate to respond — Scott Jensen, a physician and former state senator who is perhaps best know nationally for his wacky views about ivermectin— cited debunked claims about dead people voting. The second, Dr. Neil Shah, also refused to affirm Biden’s victory and spoke out on behalf of voter ID laws (never mind that Biden won a number of states, including Georgia and Wisconsin, with ID laws on the books).
But the most memorable response came from third candidate, Mike Murphy, mayor of Lexington, Minnesota, who offered a soundbite that could double as the GOP’s platform.
“I do believe there was voter fraud at a massive scale across this country. Can I pinpoint the evidence? No, absolutely not,” he admitted.
Next came state Sen. Paul Gazelka, who according to early polling is the frontrunner. Gazelka began by saying “I don’t think the election was fair.” He added, “if we have election judges in every one of the precincts, it’s a lot more difficult to cheat” — a comment an election judge I spoke with over the weekend characterized as “especially dangerous” given Gazelka’s status as the leading contender for the nomination.
“It’s false, will anger those who believe it, and could lead to worse than just unfriendly [Republican] election judges,” the election judge told me.
The fifth and final candidate to weigh in on the question was state Sen. Michelle Benson, who when pressed by Hewitt about Biden’s legitimacy said, “he was certified by Congress as having won the Electoral College” — the implication being that while Biden technically won, he might not have won legitimately.
“Be a poll watcher … the more we watch, the less they cheat,” Benson added.
This is dangerous stuff. Whereas in previous election cycles support for lower taxes or fewer regulations might’ve been a litmus test for Republicans seeking elected office, now it’s belief (or pretending to believe) in Trump’s wild conspiracy theories that the presidency was stolen from him. A two-party system can’t work when one party rejects the rules and tries to explain away unpopular policy positions that contribute to losing elections with bogus allegations of cheating.
For what it’s worth, early indications are that whoever emerges from the GOP primary will have a tough time beating incumbent Tim Walz (D) and thereby becoming the first Republican to win a statewide election in Minnesota since the George W. Bush administration. A recent KSTP TV poll showed Walz leading each of the Republican hopefuls by at least 12 points.
That’s it for today
I’ll be back with another free newsletter Tuesday morning, featuring a look at some of the bizarre Covid messaging from Republican governors.
Until then, hope your week is off to a good start, and happy holidays!