A Clear Window Into Political Life in Washington

From Politico Playbook PM by Ryan Lizza, Eli Okun, and Garrett Ross:

STEVE CLEMONS, a good friend of Playbook, knows JOE MANCHINas well as anyone in Washington. When Steve was recently honored by the French, Manchin was there to celebrate. When Manchin recently sat down with a group of Washington insiders for an off-the-record dinner in a private room at Cafe Milano, it was Steve who hosted it. At a recent soiree at the French ambassador’s residence, Clemons was the guy guiding the senator around the first floor of the Kalorama mansion and acting as a kind of gatekeeper for the dozens of revelers in black tie who wanted face time.

So when Steve writes about the senator, it’s worth paying attention. His new dispatch for The Hill, posted this morning, is titled, “White House incivility is what ‘lost’ Joe Manchin.” Anyone following the Biden-Manchin drama closely will want to read every word of this piece.

According to Steve, the key moment when the White House lost the West Virginia Democrat was on Thursday, when, in Manchin’s view, President JOE BIDEN broke a non-aggression pact that the two men had negotiated after agreeing that the Build Back Better package wouldn’t move until after Christmas.

Steve writes:

“But then – bang! – the White House released a statement blaming Manchin for the delay. It tried to strike a positive tone about the future, but it targeted Manchin specifically and alone. …

“I know Manchin. He believes in civility above all things. … When I saw Manchin’s name in the presidential statement, I knew he would perceive it as a breach of process, a breach of spirit, a breach of Joe and Joe working this out so that politicians from Scranton and Charleston could find a way to align with those from Brooklyn and San Francisco.

“Given the protests that Manchin’s family has experienced at his home, which is a boat in Washington Harbor — with folks harassing him, his wife and grandson by kayak around his boat and the gate to the marina — I knew this presidential statement was personalizing the game. It put his family at risk, in my view. Everyone knows Manchin and [Sen. KYRSTEN] SINEMA are the two Democrats the White House must negotiate with because it has given up on Republicans — but to specify Manchin in a presidential statement meant the terms of the dealmaking had changed.

“The question now is ‘Who lost Joe Manchin?’ Was it the president who veered away from his own famous framework for dealing with difficult leaders? How could the White House not know that getting uncivil with Manchin — who believes in civility even with his biggest antagonists, who had a three-hour dinner with progressive leader Rep. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Wash.) and then spoke publicly about how valuable it was to know her better than he did previously — would be so destructive?”

There will be a lot of observers who roll their eyes at this civility excuse and laugh at the idea that Manchin and his family were put at risk. But what matters is that this is what Manchin seems to believe.

Manchin himself is leaning into the civility excuse. Here’s how he described his rebellion against the White House in a local radio interview with HOPPY KERCHEVAL this morning, per Burgess Everett:

“‘I knew what they could and could not do. They just never realized it, because they figure surely to God we can move one person. Surely, we can badger and beat one person up,’ Manchin said on West Virginia MetroNews, his first response to the blowback he’s taken from the White House and Democrats for tanking Biden’s signature legislation.

“He added: ‘Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from, [where] they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive.’”

Both Clemons and Manchin target White House officials, rather than the president himself.

“I just got to the wit’s end. And they know the real reason what happened. They won’t tell you, and I’m not going to tell you,” Manchin said in the radio interview today. “It’s not the president, it’s the staff. They drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable.”

Our big takeaway from these new Manchin revelations this morning? This was as much personal and cultural as it was ideological.

Speak Your Mind