The White House was giving Manchin space, too. After Biden’s public split with Manchin in December, the White House established a “fight club” mentality about any ongoing negotiations in Congress — they refused to talk about the talks.
On July 15, as Manchin and Schumer worked to salvage a watered-down package, Biden himself appeared to be washing his hands of it. “I did not negotiate with Joe Manchin,” Biden told NBC’s Peter Alexander in Saudi Arabia when asked if Manchin was negotiating in good faith.
Behind the scenes, the White House was on the lookout. Biden had instructed one of his key aides, Steve Ricchetti, to maintain a direct and open channel with Manchin for several months, while Brian Daisy, director of the National Economic Council, continued staff-level talks with Manchin’s office. And Ron Klain, the White House staff, has been in regular contact with Schumer.
But unlike in 2021, there have been no Biden-to-Hill visits to rally Democrats, And there was no White House entourage moving between offices, acting as a go-between.
“Because of the way 2021 ended … it might have made it difficult when they were again involved in bringing the White House very intensely,” said one Democratic senator, who said he did not see any White House presence on the Hill. “It doesn’t seem like there was a lot of deep sharing. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t some sharing, but it doesn’t mean there was like a threesome conversation.”
A positive Covid-19 test kept Biden on the bench as talks headed home. On July 27, after Biden tested negative and returned from isolation the first time, his top advisers briefed him directly on the status of that final deal, and he placed calls to Manchin and Schumer that night.
“Biden checked in multiple times, and he deserves credit for his confidence in the process and knowledge of how the Senate works,” said a Democratic source familiar with the talks.
Lights turn to Cinema
With Manchin on board, the spotlight turned to the other enigmatic Democrat, Sinema. For a week, she played a game of cat and mouse with the press, refusing to say whether she would support the deal. Nor did she make it easy for Manchin, who was trying to find time to talk to her about the packaging.
Manchin found her during a voting string when Sinema was chairing the Senate president. He went up to the stage, wearing a mask and a gray suit, and talked to her for about 15 minutes.
For the better part of the year, Sinema has made its red lines very clear with Schumer, Manchin, and other colleagues. She has consistently argued against closing the carry interest loophole, which allows private equity managers to pay a much lower tax rate on their earnings than most people do on ordinary income. This came later at her insistence.
“Senator Sinema said she won’t vote for the bill, she won’t even move forward unless we delete it,” Schumer told reporters last week. “So we had no choice.”
Sinema was skeptical that the Democrats’ landmark climate law did not include any drought-prevention money for places as prone to drought and wildfire as her home state of Arizona. She will have to solve this problem later with the help of Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Michael Bennett of Colorado, and other Democrats from Western states.
August 4, a Thursday, was a crucial day: Schumer wanted to announce that all 50 Democrats were on board before a potential weekend session; Sinema was the only camp. But her attention was divided. That afternoon, she was hazy in action, standing in a well on the Senate floor, whipping Republicans to support the confirmation of Arizona attorney Rupali Desai, her good friend who was nominated by Biden to the powerful 9th U.S. Court of Appeals.
She’s often seen as one of the Republicans’ favorite Democrats in the upper chamber — she’s done infrastructure and arms deals with the GOP this cycle — so it was here that she was going to burn some of her political capital. When she saw Senator Cynthia Loomis, a staunch conservative Republican, vote “no” on Desai, Sinema jumped and asked if Loomis would reconsider her vote.
“This woman is a very dear friend; she is not an ideologue. She is a very dedicated and intelligent judge,” Sinema told Loomis, the Wyoming Republican. Loomis expressed concern about the liberal 9th district, but Sinema’s personal appeal eventually won her over.
“Senator Sinema vouched for this woman, so I changed my vote,” Loomis said.
Moments later, Sinema, 46, a triathlete and barbell, burst out of the doors of the Capitol building screaming, “Has anyone seen a dead person?” She found Sen. Mitt Romney and escorted the Utah Republican back to the Senate floor, and he, too, voted yes to Desai. Desai was confirmed 67-29, with 19 Republicans voting yes.
But Republicans will not be happy with what Sinema is doing from the point of view of reporters and photographers. That afternoon and that evening, she was hidden in her little windowless office, in the bowels of the Senate. He was a man unknown to most Washington but well known to a cinema he walked to and from the room. It was Jerry Petrella, Schumer’s policy director, and they were working out the final details of a deal to win her vote.
I trusted him. Together, they worked closely on trimming Biden’s original $3.5 trillion package to build back better, and he was there when she and the Republicans struck a deal on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
When she and Petrella made good progress, Schumer called Sinema into his office to iron out final details and seal the deal.
At about seven o’clock in the evening, Sinema arrived. They met for 30 minutes and sealed the deal with a handshake. The interest allowance made is taken out, and you’ll get billions in drought funding. She wanted $5 billion for the West. Manchin would only agree to $4 billion.
“They don’t have a drought in West Virginia,” one Democratic senator quipped.
To offset the loss of revenue from the abolition of carry interest, Schumer went with an excise tax of 1% on stock buybacks. Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado said he proposed the idea, long on cinema radar, to Sens. Schumer, Bennett and Mark Warner of Virginia during a meeting in Schumer’s office earlier in the week.
It was agreed.
After a grueling 15-hour amendment process that stretched from late Saturday night, Aug. 6, through Sunday morning and early afternoon, the Senate passed the bill, 51-50, with the help of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Ultimately, Biden saw the final Senate vote from 120 miles away, having flown that morning through the vote at his Delaware Beach home.
The House came back from its one-day August recess, Friday, and passed the bill, and all 220 Democrats voted in favor.
“It’s really a celebration,” a beaming Pelosi told NBC News after she lowered the vote to cheers from her members. “The whole bill is very important, but whether it means the kitchen table or the entire planet, it is a pleasure to look at.
“Those of us who have been involved in the climate cause for decades are thrilled beyond words that we have this huge, unprecedented commitment out there to save the planet while the other side says there is no climate crisis.”