Work on a coronavirus relief bill in the Senate froze for hours on Friday as Democrats and Republicans fought for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to vote for their respective proposals on unemployment insurance, the latest demonstration of the moderate’s power in a 50-50 Senate.
UNITED STATES – March 4: Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., adjusts his tie as he arrives to the Senate … [+]
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters he believes Manchin is leaning towards Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) amendment to keep unemployment insurance benefits at $300 a week and cut them off in July.
Democrats, Blunt said, are “doing their best” to talk Manchin into voting for Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-Del.) amendment, which would extend unemployment insurance to September and allow the first $10,200 to be tax free.
Manchin cryptically told CNN’s Manu Raju, “I like good amendments,” adding that today’s positive jobs report “helps a lot” with voting to cut down the size of the stimulus bill.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) at one point had a heated exchange with Manchin on the Senate floor, according to HuffPost and Politico, which reported Sinema “told him the vote is today, implying that negotiations can’t continue forever.”
Senate GOP Whip John Thune told reporters “I feel bad for Joe Manchin” because Democratic leaders are “trying to get their members in line,” quipping, “I hope the Geneva Convention applies to him.”
Thune claimed Manchin believes Portman’s amendment is “better policy” and is “always trying to do the right thing” but is getting “beat up by his side,” asserting, “Democrats in his caucus obviously don’t want to give Republicans a bipartisan win on this.”
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) predicted Carper’s amendment will pass, while Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) warned that passing Portman’s amendment could force the House and White House to renegotiate the bill, which could cause them to fall short of a critical March 14 deadline on unemployment insurance. “That’s not a desirable outcome,” he said.
“The answer is, if they need Joe, then give him what he needs. And then they say at that point, ‘Maybe Speaker Pelosi won’t take up the bill.’ Well, baloney to that,” Sen Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Manchin has expressed interest in the Portman amendment and predicted the bill would pass some time Saturday morning, according to pool reports. “At some point people are going to say ‘I’m tired and I’m getting out of here,’ he said. “Which is pretty powerful when you’re talking about a 50-50 Senate.”
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I am a news reporter covering politics and the Biden transition. I have previously worked for MSNBC and Chronogram Magazine. I attended Vassar College and the London