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How do you solve a problem like Manchin-ia?- POLITICO


Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice. 

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No lawmaker has done more to downsize JOE BIDEN’s ambitions than JOE MANCHIN, who took a $3.5 trillion, wide-ranging domestic agenda and whittled it down into a (still historic) deficit reduction package that will reduce the costs of prescription drugs.

And as greater Washington D.C. scans over the burned carcass of the Build Back Better initiative that Manchin left behind, it’s engaged in a parlor game of sorts.

What, if anything, could the White House have done differently?

The answers reveal a fair bit about the modern Democratic mindset, Biden world included. Manchin empathizers say it’s simple: had the president and Senate leadership simply acquiesced to his demands sooner, a deal could have been struck.

But most in the party have come to a different conclusion: it was a fait accompli to end up in this place. There was, as CHRIS JENNINGS, founder of Jennings Policy Strategies put it, no “magic bullet.”

“A lot of people will say you should have reached out this way or not offended him that way,” said Jennings. “But, in the end, he’s an adult, he makes his own decisions… He was going to have to be comfortable with it. He was going to have to go through his journey.”

As one of the party’s most seasoned operatives at crafting high-stakes legislation, Jennings has a unique vantage point on this matter. He was intimately involved in both BILL CLINTON’s failed effort to pass health care reform and BARACK OBAMA’s successful attempt. And he likened Manchin’s process to the unpredictable approaches of past moderate Democrats, from BOB KERREY to JOE LIEBERMAN. Each one, he recounted, were enigmas to the White House, seemingly immune to the sticks and carrots and emotional pleas that win over votes.

As top Democrats inside and out of the administration see it, they tried all those things with Manchin, too. Biden directly engaged him and left him alone. The administration applied pressure and dangled goodies. They met his demands, only to — in their mind — see them change. One Democrat briefed on negotiations said that as talks came to a head last week, Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER’s office conceded nearly every climate policy request Manchin made: dropping tax credits for electric vehicles, adding additional measures for drilling and permitting reform, nixing corporate tax hikes and putting in the same credits for hydrogen-battery fueled cars as for electric vehicles.

Manchin said he wanted more time to see the inflation report from July.

But beyond the quickly-forming consensus that the current trajectory was unavoidable is a secondary conclusion, one far more biting for the White House. And that is they were painfully slow to recognize this reality, sacrificing time and political capital in the process.

It’s a synopsis espoused by the right, which has relished watching the Democratic faceplant that transpired.

LIAM DONOVAN, a GOP operative who has followed the BBB negotiations like an aspiring rabbi engaged in Talmudic studies, argued that Democratic leadership erred in managing expectations, making it virtually impossible for the party to agree to Manchin’s demands.

“They promised the world to everybody and every step of the way was essentially a confidence game to elide all the mistrust,” Donovan said, dubbing the strategy a political version of “fake it till you make it.”

Despite the outcome, both protagonists are playing nice — as of now.

SAM RUNYON, a Manchin spokesperson, said that “during the entirety of Sen. Manchin’s career in the Senate he has committed himself to working with the sitting president, regardless of political party. He has tremendous respect for President Biden and will continue to look for ways they can work together.” White House spokesman ANDREW BATES added that “President Biden and senior White House staff have been in regular touch with Sen. Manchin,” while noting the two “are longtime friends who share important values about standing up for middle class families.” (A day later, it should be noted, Biden himself said “I haven’t spoken to Sen. Manchin.”)

But on the professional left, there is also a belief that the White House’s recognition of legislative realities came far too late. They don’t relish the drama like Donovan. Instead, they look back at the year and a half of negotiations and shudder at all the votes and held-off executive actions that could have been.

“We need the White House and Dems to work in parallel rather than serially,” said JEFF HAUSER, a progressive operative and founder and director of the Revolving Door Project. “That means negotiate with Manchin, fine, that makes sense, 50 votes is critical to all sorts of stuff. But do not pause any effort to either implement existing authority within the executive branch or the possibility of pushing single issue bills… just to reduce stimuli during a negotiation with Manchin.”

MESSAGE US — Are you MARTIN BROWNE, associate director of advance? We want to hear from you! And we’ll keep you anonymous if you’d like. Or if you think we missed something in today’s edition, let us know and we may include it tomorrow. Email us at [email protected].

This one’s from Allie. What name was President GERALD FORD born with?

(Answer at bottom.)

TGIF! It’s cartoon feature time. This one is courtesy of BILL BRAMHALL. Our very own MATT WUERKER also publishes a selection of cartoons from all over the country. View the cartoon carousel here.

MASKED UP: Yesterday, West Wing Playbook noted that Biden appeared to violate CDC guidance when he took off his mask for a picture and video of him working despite his Covid diagnosis. The White House is keeping up appearances: Today, Biden’s team shared another image of the president at his desk. This time, he was wearing a tight-fitting mask.

Vice President KAMALA HARRIS, however, appeared to violate CDC guidance today. Since she’s considered a “close contact” of the president, agency guidance states she should wear “a well-fitting mask for 10 full days any time you are around others inside your home or in public.”

She tested negative for Covid on Friday morning, and recently had Covid herself, but the CDC guidance is pretty clear. At the National Urban League conference in D.C., she took off her mask — and then hugged Birmingham Mayor RANDALL WOODFIN and kept her mask off for their conversation on stage. Her office declined to comment. This is not the first time Harris has appeared to violate CDC masking guidance after being declared a close contact. 

FUMES FROM THE FOURTH ESTATE: There has been some frustration from the White House press crew about ASHISH JHA taking questions from the podium as opposed to Biden’s doctor, Dr. KEVIN O’CONNOR. A veteran White House reporter asked West Wing Playbook: “If GEORGE W. BUSH can send his doctor to explain his colonoscopy and BILL CLINTON can send his doctor to explain his knee surgery, what explains Joe Biden’s reticence to send his doctor and to answer our questions?”

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: This Colorado Public Radio story with the headline: More Colorado households could be eligible for affordable internet under bipartisan infrastructure law.

White House regional communications director HARIS TALWAR tweeted out the story, adding: “Friends tell friends about Getinternet.gov.”

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: This AP story about the Democratic mayors of New York and Washington calling on the Biden administration to do more about an increase in migration as city shelters and volunteer programs feel “burned out and overwhelmed.” NYC Mayor ERIC ADAMS said yesterday: “We do need help from the federal government, through FEMA, to assist us. This city was already dealing with a shelter population, and we’re going to need help to deal with this unprecedented surge.”

Republican governors from Arizona and Texas earlier this year started busing migrants to those cities, a practice Texas Gov. GREG ABBOTT has defended by saying, “every American community is a border community.”

‘A TEACHABLE MOMENT’: Following Biden’s positive coronavirus diagnosis Thursday, the White House spun it into “a teachable moment” for America, AP’s WILL WEISSERT and CHRIS MEGERIAN write. White House chief of staff RON KLAIN said on MSNBC Thursday that Biden “does what every other person in America does every day, which is he takes reasonable precautions against COVID but does his job.”

The AP said the messaging from the White House reflected a shift in narrative “from a health scare to a display of Biden as the personification of the idea that most Americans can get COVID and recover without too much suffering and disruption if they’ve gotten their shots and taken other important steps to protect themselves.”

On the topic, the president’s physician Friday said his coronavirus symptoms are improving. He had a temperature of 99.4 degrees late Thursday and still had a runny nose. More details from NYT’s ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS and MICHAEL SHEAR.

Read the doctors’ note yourself:

DEPARTURE LOUNGE: ERIN PELTON is leaving her position as the chief of staff at the Domestic Policy Council and special assistant to the president, our colleagues over at Playbook report. She’s taking some time off this summer before announcing her next step.

PELOSI V. THE PENTAGON: LARA SELIGMAN and ANDREW DESIDERIO report on the behind-the-scenes discussions between Speaker NANCY PELOSI and the Pentagon on her planned trip to Taiwan.

Pentagon officials believe the trip could increase tensions in the region and Pelosi is planning to use a military aircraft to fly to the island. That’s standard for congressional delegations, but to the Chinese “it looks like a military operation,” one U.S. official told Seligman and Desiderio.

KHAN WATCH: The Federal Trade Commission Chair LINA KHAN and the rest of the agency are debating whether or not to bring legal action against Northrop Grumman for alleged merger violations with rocket, missile and satellite motor manufacturer Orbital ATK, JOSH SISCO and LEE HUDSON report.

Kamala Harris wants to be seen — and let voters know she sees them. Can it work? (19th News’ Errin Haines)

Pete Buttigieg faces crisis and opportunity as airline cancellations mount (NBC News’ Jonathan Allen, Henry J. Gomez, Alex Seitz-Wald and Peter Nicholas)

Biden Administration Holds Off on Sending Long-Range Armed Drones to Ukraine (WSJ’s Nancy A. Youssef, Gordon Lubold and Vivian Salama)

U.S., Global Business Activity Slid in July (WSJ’s Harriet Torry and Paul Hannon)

White House Covid-19 coordinator Ashish Jha on “FOX News Sunday” at 9 a.m. ET.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain on SYMONE SANDERS’ show on MSNBC Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.

Vice President Harris sat down with progressive political host BRIAN TYLER COHEN for an interview, which will be released on his social channels on Sunday.

TIM WU, special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, dabbled in various industries before getting involved in the work he does now. He majored in biophysics at McGill University, but changed course and attended law school at Harvard.

The switch up stemmed from the fact that he was somewhat clumsy with lab work,

Wu admitted on an episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” back in 2016: “I had always thought I’d be a scientist because my parents were scientists, and I went into the lab and I’m sorry to say I was something of a failure.”

“I actually broke a high-speed centrifuge,” he said. “I just was bad with my hands. I’m sort of absent minded. I threw away samples, I’d be digging through the garbage. Once I had thought I contaminated the entire laboratory with radioactivity, it was like something out of Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk.”

Yikes! We’re just glad no one was hurt while Tim tried to work in the science world.

President GERALD RUDOLPH FORD was born as LESLIE KING JR., after his biological father, LESLIE KING SR. His parents separated when he was young, and Ford was primarily raised by his mother, DOROTHY GARDNER.

Gardner married GERALD RUDOLPH FORD in 1917 and afterward, the pair started calling the future president, Jerry, after his stepdad. The name was legally changed in 1935, according to the Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation.

A CALL OUT — Do you think you have a more difficult trivia question? Send us your best on the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.

Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.





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