Women lawmakers lead charge against Senator Joe Manchin’s intransigence on key bill

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US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.  (AP)
US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. (AP)

Female Democratic members of Congress and senators, particularly women of colour, are pushing back on Sen Joe Manchin’s efforts to pare down on their party’s social spending and climate bill and prioritise passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Mr Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, gave a press conference Monday calling for the House to pass an infrastructure bill that passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis. He criticised progressive Democrats for demanding his support of a larger social spending bill that would pass party lines through a process called reconciliation, allowing them to sidestep a filibuster, before moving forward on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill,” Mr Manchin told reporters on Monday.

Sen Joe Manchin speaks at a Capitol Hill press conference on 1 November. (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Sen Joe Manchin speaks at a Capitol Hill press conference on 1 November. (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Similarly, Mr Manchin has expressed concern about including paid family leave, which was not included in the White House’s framework of the social spending bill, sometimes called the Build Back Better bill.

In response, Rep Cori Bush of Missouri, a member of the Squad, said Sen Manchin was actively harming multiple marginalised communities.

“Not supporting it is anti-Black, it’s anti-brown, it’s anti-immigrant, it’s anti-child, it’s anti-woman,” she said, since the reconciliation bill would aid groups most affected by the pandemic. “If we don’t do the work first for them, that what are you the senator for?”

Ms Bush is part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is led by Rep Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, herself an immigrant from India. Ms Jayapal dismissed the concerns from Mr Manchin.

“I don’t know what Sen Manchin is thinking, but we are going to pass both bills through the House and we’re going to have transformative change,” she said, adding that she thought both the bipartisan bill and the reconciliation legislation would pass through the Senate.

Rep Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, center, along with other lawmakers, talks with reporters outside the West Wing of the Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, following their meeting with President Joe Biden. Jayapal is joined by from left, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-New York. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Rep Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, center, along with other lawmakers, talks with reporters outside the West Wing of the Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, following their meeting with President Joe Biden. Jayapal is joined by from left, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-New York. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Conversely, Ms Jayapal told reporters she was optimistic after her meeting with the Senate’s other conservative Democrat, Sen Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

“All I can say is it was just a really good, productive meeting and I feel like she’s negotiating in good faith and she’s going to be a good partner,” Ms Jayapal said Monday evening, adding that she would also not accept any more cuts to the social spending bill.

“This is the framework that we endorsed and we agreed to and we made it clear to the White House that we’re happy with anything additive, so for something on prescription drug pricing we’d be be thrilled,” she said, noting some Democrats are working on that issue. “But nothing backwards.”

Rep Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is the whip of the Progressive Caucus, said Ms Sinema and Mr Manchin’s actions were frustrating.

“I think the shenanigans of these two senators just sounds on-brand to me and it is not of a concern of mine and I know that it is not a concern of an overwhelming majority of the progressive caucus,” she said Monday evening.

“I trust my word, and my word has always been that we pass the two bills out of the Senate together, not a single bill passes, without the full agenda passing,” she said.

Ms Omar said it was undeniable that Mr Manchin’s words and opposition to policies like paid family leave were rooted in him not taking women’s needs seriously.

“The irony, you know, of a man who has all the resources available to him isn’t lost on me and it isn’t lost on the millions of American women who desperately want this benefit,” she said.

Congresswoman Cori Bush (Getty Images)
Congresswoman Cori Bush (Getty Images)

The House isn’t the only place where Mr Manchin has met opposition from Democratic women lawmakers. Last week, Sens Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Patty Murray of Washington and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii confronted Mr Manchin on the Senate floor about his opposition to paid family leave.

Political strategists said Mr Manchin’s position was more about exerting power than any animus towards an entire race or gender.

“I won’t live to see it, but I’m gonna do everything I can to accelerate the day we live in a post-racial world, and I’m sure to some extent it matters,” said Democratic strategist James Carville. Mr Carville pointed to the fact many members of the progressive caucus are women from poor urban areas.

“I like Senator Manchin, he’s a friend of mine, and you know, like everything in American politics I’m sure there’s some racial aspect to it, but I ain’t going there,” he said.

Conversely, Rick Wilson, a former Republican strategist who helped start the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said the conflict comes from two disparate groups with a large amount of power.

“One, the Squad-type progressives, and two, the more center-ish, Joe Manchin-Sinema types,” he said. “They both find themselves in a position where they’ve got enormous leverage, and so I don’t think it has much to do with with demographics. I think it has to do with the ideology, and the and the use of power.”

Despite the disputes, Rep Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin and former chairman of the Progressive Caucus, said it was possible there might be a race and gender divide but was more optimistic about the final outcome.

“I think we’re gonna pass these bills this week,” he said. “And I think we’ll be celebrating real soon what we’re getting done for American people.”

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