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Joe Manchin may have just killed Biden's Build Back Better plan

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin went on Fox News this morning and delivered what sounded like a fatal blow to Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE MANCHIN: This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.

PFEIFFER: It's a roughly $2 trillion bill meant to expand the social safety net and address climate change. But Manchin says it's too costly. Democrats need unanimous support in the Senate to pass it. Without Manchin, they cannot proceed.

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been covering the story and joins me. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

PFEIFFER: How did Manchin explain his sudden end to the talks?

SNELL: Well, he basically said he tried to find a way to get on board with the bill, but he just couldn't do it. So let's take a listen to the longer exchange he had with Fox host Bret Baier.

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MANCHIN: If I can't go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can't vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I've tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there.

BRET BAIER: You're done. This is a no.

MANCHIN: This is a no.

SNELL: You know, Manchin has been involved in lots of talks for just absolute months. And there have been many times when this bill was teetering on the edge of failure. But this is as close to a death knell as it gets. You know, Democrats I've talked to were a bit shocked by the timing and the way this was handled. But this is the exact scenario that many of them feared.

PFEIFFER: What's the reaction from Manchin's colleagues been like?

SNELL: Democrats are just angry. Manchin got tons of personal attention, hours and hours of meetings and calls and texts. There was constant outreach from other Democrats trying to meet his demands. You know, more often than not, they were just trying to figure out what his demands even were. And the statements and comments today have been really - barely restrained. Here's Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders on CNN just a little bit after Manchin made his statement.

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BERNIE SANDERS: Look; we were 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.

SNELL: So what Sanders is saying there is he wants to vote on this bill, and he wants to make a public example out of Manchin.

PFEIFFER: President Biden had been very focused on getting Manchin on board, maybe more than anything else, as he's pushed this bill forward. Have you heard anything from the White House about seeming to have lost Manchin on this?

SNELL: Well, I'm told Manchin's staff let the White House know and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's office know about the decision about a half an hour before that Fox appearance. And there was some bitterness that Manchin didn't relay the news himself. You know, the statement from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was very blunt and very critical. She said Manchin promised to continue conversations in the days ahead. And if his statement means it's an end to that effort, she called it a, quote, "sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position and a breach of his commitments to the president and to the senator's colleagues."

PFEIFFER: Is there any way Democrats can revive this bill?

SNELL: Well, they may try to regroup and try something new. But this is a huge loss of trust. This bill was already changed several times based on Manchin's demand. There are several examples, but I think the two clearest are climate change and the child tax credit, which expires at the end of the month.

You know, Manchin cited concerns about a one-year extension of the credit. Basically, he says that Democrats want to make it permanent. And he worries that a one-year extension looks less expensive on paper than their long-term plans. He says this bill would likely cost a lot more money. But he is the one who demanded that Democrats scale back the extension to a year from a much longer window.

And as for climate change, this was Democrats' big chance to get a climate bill passed. They made major changes to the bill to satisfy Manchin's demands, particularly on coal. And he wouldn't sign on. It's hard to see how they write a bill in that scenario.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thank you very much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAZZINUF'S "MENTAL ACUPUNCTURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.