Psaki pressed, ‘Who’s in charge?’ as Manchin, not Biden, steers budget talks

Psaki pressed, ‘Who’s in charge?’ as Manchin, not Biden, steers budget talks

While the House prepares to vote on the bipartisan Senate-passed infrastructure bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was pushed on whether President Biden is in charge of negotiations as progressives and moderate Democrats continue to battle.

During Thursday’s daily press briefing, Psaki was asked if Biden has “at all lost control of his party…[because] some people say that it appears that progressives are running the show, they’re banding together and making their commands. Other people are saying looks like Joe Manchin is playing president — so who is in charge?”

“Well, this is how democracy works,” Psaki said, before resorting to slamming the previous administration. “I know it feels foreign because there wasn’t much that happened over the last couple of years, but how it works is the American people elect their elected officials, the President of the United States puts forward a bold and ambitious proposal, and then everybody negotiates about it.” 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked if President Joe Biden has lost control of his party.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque   

“They have different points of view, that’s how democracy should work. We’re in the midst of it right now,” she continued. “We’re not trying to paint over how messy it looks from the outside, we know that. But what the good news is, is that there is agreement that among most Democrats — if not every single one of them — that we need to get something done.”

“Now we’re in the nitty gritty details which is very important, but that’s the end stage of this process,” she later added. “And the American people should know that that’s what the president’s working on.” 

Psaki’s comments come the same day the House is set to vote on the infrastructure bill, though it remains unclear what the outcome will be. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he would only support a $1.5 trillion reconciliation bill.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

Progressive lawmakers have vowed to vote against the infrastructure deal if a massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation package is not passed first. 

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) has said her caucus has enough votes to tank the bill and previously called for moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) — both of which have had multiple meetings with the White House — to provide a topline number for the reconciliation bill.

On Thursday, a Politico report revealed that Manchin told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he would only support the reconciliation bill at a $1.5 trillion price tag earlier this summer. 

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden is facing resistance in his own party on his proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

In late July, Manchin and Schumer (D-NY) came to an agreement to start debate on the budget reconciliation “no earlier than October 1, 2021,” with a topline of $1.5 trillion, according to a copy of the agreement. 

Manchin spoke with reporters on Thursday, sticking by that number. 

“As you’ve seen, I think by now, the 1.5 was always done from, from my heart, basically [as] what we could do and not jeopardize — not jeopardize our economy,” he said.

Manchin revealed his concern that the current multi-trillion dollar pair of infrastructure bills could harm the economy as well as increase inflation in the “geopolitical fallout” from the Afghanistan withdrawal. 

“I’ll give you a perfect example in West Virginia. I just saw today where Dollar General is no longer a dollar. It’s a dollar and a quarter or a dollar and 50 cents. That’s hard for West Virginia, a lot of people just shop there and it’s all that we have,” he said. 

Manchin revealed he gave Biden that topline number “in the last week or so,” however Psaki would not confirm any specific negotiation between the president and senator. 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has been asked to provide a topline number for the reconciliation bill by Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
REUTERS/Tom Brenner/Pool

This week, it remained unclear whether the vote on the infrastructure bill would happen and on Wednesday multiple lawmakers from both parties told The Post they believed the infrastructure bill would not come up for a House vote, handing at least a temporary victory to the Democrats’ progressive wing.

However, Thursday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted she was confident the vote would continue as scheduled. 

“We’re on a path to win the vote and I don’t want to even consider any options other than that,” she told reporters. 

During the briefing, Psaki was questioned about the president’s message to Republican senators who voted to pass the bipartisan bill “on its merits” but stand that it should not be linked with the reconciliation package. 

“Well, if we’re working towards victory here and a win, if it doesn’t pass it’s because it doesn’t have enough votes. I think Republicans in the Senate understand that and know how this process works, but that’s what we’re working towards.” 

“Now, that’s what the President’s been making phone calls about, that’s why we have his schedule cleared for this afternoon, and I’m not going to make a prediction of what the outcome will look like several hours from now.” 

In response to Manchin’s topline, Jayapal reiterated her vow to deliver on the “entirety of the president’s agenda,” adding that they are committed to work over the weekend to get a deal. 

When asked if the president would be willing to make that same commitment, Psaki fell back on taking negotiations “hour by hour,” but said Biden is available. 

“We’re open, he’s available,” she said. “He’s been making calls this morning, he’s open to having visitors, he’s open to going places, but we’re going to make those decisions hour by hour, so the weekend’s a little bit away.” 

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