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Miscalculating Sinema and Manchin could end up costing Biden

“DANGEROUS CREATURE,” the Arizona Democrat’s sweater blared in all-capital letters.

Tanden’s nomination was already on life support after Manchin said he would not support her, citing old tweets she wrote that disparaged members of both parties. And like Sinema, the West Virginia Democrat also says he opposes the increase in the minimum wage.

The outsized role the centrists will play in Biden’s efforts in Congress have earned them both the attention — and, in some instances, the private ire — of White House officials, who are loathe to appear beholden to a small group of lawmakers but have almost no room for error on close votes.

As the White House maintained its public support for Tanden on Wednesday, one official suggested the increasingly quixotic effort to secure her confirmation was meant, in part, to counter the perception that Manchin had sole ability to derail Biden’s agenda.

The rules of the Senate have always allowed any individual senator to slow down a nomination, but the dynamics of a 50-50 split in the chamber have given Sinema and Manchin even more power in determining the fate of a nomination or a piece of legislation.

“That’s usually the case that one senator can stop things. It’s more dramatic now because we in the Democratic majority need to do things. We need to give the President his team,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, said on Wednesday as Tanden’s nomination hovered in limbo. “We’re doing kind of a full scale effort including the White House and members to find support.”

Since taking office, Biden has held a series of phone conversations with Manchin, according to aides, and the White House is in regular communication with Sinema’s office to assess where she stands on various areas of intense administration interest.

Asked about the influence two moderate Democrats could wield over Biden’s personnel and policy agenda, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “has the benefit of experience of recognizing the power of any one individual senator or one individual member, and he certainly respects that.”

Different styles

Sinema has long been a stark defender of her views, but she’s made a habit of expressing them privately to Democratic leadership and not in the Capital hallways with reporters or in national television interviews. Sinema, who was elected to the Senate in 2018, doesn’t typically advertise how she’ll vote on a nominee or bill until she goes to the floor and does it.

The Arizona senator has been one of the fiercest enforcers of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on distancing indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, riding in elevators without any other people and sternly reminding reporters to keep their distance from her and each other. For months, she wore neon wigs instead of going to hair salons to retouch her blonde color.

In both her political style and biography, she is a different type of senator than Manchin, who Biden worked with during his years as President Barack Obama’s vice president. Manchin has publicly embraced his role as a potential spoiler for his own party, broadcasting his disputes and relishing his kingmaker reputation while drawing irritation from the President’s allies.

Some White House officials said they felt they had a better handle on Manchin than on Sinema, who had not served during a Democratic administration until now. One close adviser told CNN that Manchin is keenly aware of what Biden’s red lines are. In many ways, Manchin isn’t doing anything different than he’s done for years in Washington, often annoying fellow Democrats in the process, though now his independent streak has assumed outsized potential for scuttling tight votes.

He broke Democratic ranks multiple times in the Trump administration, voting for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and US Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell. The former West Virginia governor famously appeared in a 2010 campaign ad using a rifle to shoot holes in a Democratic climate bill….

Read More: Miscalculating Sinema and Manchin could end up costing Biden

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