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Manchin fires back after Sanders pens op-ed in West Virginia paper

Bernie Sanders has been calling on Joe Manchin to support President Joe Biden’s full agenda for weeks. On Friday night, Manchin signaled he’s had enough of that.

In response to an op-ed from Sanders (I-Vt.) published in Manchin’s hometown paper on Friday night, Manchin snapped back: “This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state.”

“Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs. No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that,” Manchin said in a statement on Friday evening shortly after the op-ed published. Sanders caucuses with Democrats but is still technically an independent.

Sanders has taken his campaign to pass Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending proposal to media venues across the spectrum, including Fox News. Manchin has occasionally responded, albeit not in the fashion he did on Friday night. Sanders’ move to land an op-ed in Manchin’s backyard seems to have crossed the line for the West Virginia senator.

In that piece, Sanders lays out how his proposed Medicare expansion and drug pricing reforms would help West Virginia, a historically poor state that is aided by many federal programs. Sanders also makes the case for climate action, paid leave expansion and other programs in the bill that could face omission if Manchin insists on shrinking it.

Sanders also specifically targets Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who both oppose the $3.5 trillion number and are trying to shave it down.

“Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation. Yet, the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote ‘yes.’ We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin,” Sanders wrote.

Sanders’ office ran a draft by Manchin’s after the op-ed was submitted to the paper but before it published, according to aides in both offices. Both senators serve on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s leadership team and come from polar opposites of the Democratic Caucus. They are often diplomatic, even when disagreeing in public.

Last week, however, Sanders began pressuring Manchin and Sinema to speed up their languid negotiations on the final piece of Biden’s agenda, which also covers health care and education expansion. The two gave dueling press conferences, then Sanders held an availability with reporters last Friday to continue leaning on Manchin and Sinema.

The two are at odds over the scale of how to finalize Biden’s agenda, a microcosm of the difficulties Democrats face in getting all 50 of their senators on board to pass anything through the party-line budget reconciliation process. Manchin has said he supports a $1.5 trillion spending program, viewing that as a compromise position. But Sanders initially wanted $6 trillion, and therefore views his deal with centrist Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) at $3.5 trillion as a concession.

Manchin and Sanders have plenty of history: Sanders won West Virginia’s Democratic primary in 2016, defeating Manchin-backed Hillary Clinton in the state. And a year later Sanders’ wife appeared alongside Manchin’s primary opponent in his 2018 reelection race.

Now, Sanders is imploring Manchin not to obstruct Biden’s agenda. In his view, having just two senators reluctant to move forward is an unsustainable position that undercuts Biden.

Manchin sees things differently. And it doesn’t make it any easier for Schumer to get the unity he needs to pass his agenda.

“Millions of jobs are open, supply chains are strained and unavoidable inflation taxes are draining workers’ hard-earned wages as the price of gasoline and groceries continues to climb. Senator Sanders’ answer is to throw more money on an already overheated economy while 52 other Senators have grave concerns about this approach,” Manchin said, lumping himself firmly with Sinema and the 50 Senate Republicans.

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