Manchin joins Senate Democrats to discuss future of Build Back Better bill

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin joined fellow Senate Democrats Tuesday night for a special caucus meeting on next steps for the Build Back Better Act, just two days after the West Virginia senator said he could not support President Joe Biden’s signature legislation.

Manchin’s attendance was confirmed to NBC News by multiple sources familiar with the call.

The meeting, which took place virtually, comes at a precarious moment for Biden. Manchin’s declaration Sunday that he could not vote for the House-passed version threw the bill’s prospects into doubt and left the White House scrambling to salvage the nearly $2 trillion package.

“I know we are all frustrated at this outcome. However, we are not giving up on BBB. Period. We won’t stop working on it until we pass a bill,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said during the meeting, according to a Democratic source who added that the call lasted more than 90 minutes.

A source familiar with Manchin’s thinking said the senator mostly listened and let everyone say their piece. Manchin spoke in the beginning, largely reiterating his concerns with the bill, the source said.

Schumer, in his remarks, highlighted the stakes of the bill, noting that some economists have said they will downgrade their growth forecasts if the legislation doesn’t pass, according to the Democratic source.

“This evening Senator Manchin had an honest conversation with his colleagues for whom he has a great deal of respect,” said Sam Runyon, a spokeswoman for Manchin.

Schumer said on the call that the Senate would vote on a revised version of the Build Back Better Act and a potential rules change — if Republicans don’t drop the filibuster — early in the new year. Both endeavors hinge, in large part, on Manchin, the linchpin of the 50-50 Senate.

Changing the filibuster rules would allow a vote on sweeping legislation aimed at expanding access to the ballot box and safeguarding against election subversion. That legislation is a high priority for Biden, Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates.

Schumer said in a letter to colleagues Monday that “the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” and accused Republicans of using the filibuster to protect “voter suppression and election nullification laws” in GOP-led states.

“If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster and prevent the body from considering this bill, the Senate will then consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusion on important legislation,” he wrote.

The remarks represented the closest Schumer has come to endorsing changes to the filibuster in order to pass an election overhaul. For more than a year, Schumer has tread carefully around the issue, saying only that all options are on the table.

Senate Democrats have a majority of votes to pass the Freedom To Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but Republicans are using the filibuster to prevent both bills from advancing. Piercing the filibuster, however, would require 50 votes, which Democrats don’t currently have.

Schumer made clear this week that the Senate would hold that vote, forcing Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who also supports the 60-vote threshold, to make their position known on the floor.

“Members will be given the chance to debate on the Senate floor and cast a vote so that their choice on this matter is clear and available for everyone to see,” Schumer wrote in Monday’s letter.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Schumer reiterated his plans for a vote, saying: “We are now called upon to act. We alone can protect our democracy from these attacks,” according to the Democratic source.

Manchin has been a firm opponent of invoking the so-called nuclear option, which both parties have used in the past to change Senate rules with a simple majority.

In Monday’s letter, Schumer quoted Robert C. Byrd, the former senator whose seat Manchin now holds, saying that Senate rules that previously made sense “must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.”

Frank Thorp V, Julie Tsirkin, Garrett Haake and Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.

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