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Joe Manchin says he won't support President Biden's Build Back Better plan

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2021.

Updated December 19, 2021 at 12:53 PM ET

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin doomed President Biden's roughly $2 trillion social spending and climate legislation known as Build Back Better on Sunday, telling Fox News in an interview that he cannot support it.

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

When pressed whether it's a firm no, Manchin added: "This is a no on this legislation. I've tried everything I know how to do, and the president has worked diligently. He's been wonderful to work with."

White House says Manchin had promised to keep negotiating

A source familiar with the discussions told NPR that Manchin's staff informed Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and the White House about the senator's position about 30 minutes before his Fox interview aired.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that Manchin's remarks on Fox contradicted what he had been saying to the president in recent days.

"Senator Manchin promised to continue conversations in the days ahead, and to work with us to reach that common ground," Psaki said. "If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator's colleagues in the House and Senate."

Psaki continued: "Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word."

Manchin outlined concerns about climate provisions and the plan's cost

Manchin has expressed reservations about the cost of the legislation in recent weeks, after previously forcing Democrats to scale back their climate goals in the bill. The president and Democratic leaders conceded a few days ago that they would miss their deadline to vote on the bill in the Senate before the holidays, but Manchin's comments make it appear impossible for the bill to ever pass.

In a lengthy written statement, Manchin outlined multiple reservations about the legislation. He argued against the speed of the clean energy transition sought for in the bill, saying that "to do so at a rate that is faster than technology or the markets allow will have catastrophic consequences for the American people like we have seen in both Texas and California in the last two years."

Manchin also said the legislation would end up costing more than its backers let on. He said that increasing the national debt to pay for the bill would pose a risk to national security, citing a warning from military leaders in 2011. But in April Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said climate change posed an "existential" threat to the world.

Manchin has also raised concerns about the cost of extending the child tax credit payments that began under the American Rescue Plan that passed earlier this year. Those payments have meant checks for eligible families of up to $300 per month for every child under the age of six, but because plans to continue the payments were tied to the Build Back Better legislation, the program's future appears in doubt. The White House has said the program has the potential to could cut child poverty in half.

Sanders wants a vote anyway

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders blasted Manchin in an interview on CNN's State of The Union and said he wants to call a vote on the legislation even though it's likely destined for failure.

"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," Sanders said.

Democrats have been trying to pass it through special budget legislation rules that would allow them to pass it through the 50-50 Senate without the Republican votes needed to overcome the usual 60-vote threshold on legislation. But they would need every member of the Democratic caucus on board to pass it with 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie.

Without Manchin's support, the legislation would fail.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Arnie Seipel is the Deputy Washington Editor for NPR. He oversees daily news coverage of politics and the inner workings of the federal government. Prior to this role, he edited politics coverage for seven years, leading NPR's reporting on the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections. In between campaigns, Seipel edited coverage of Congress and the White House, and he coordinated coverage of major events including State of the Union addresses, Supreme Court confirmations and congressional hearings.