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Biden and Manchin speak after heated clash over Build Back Better Act

The call took place just hours after Manchin dealt a devastating blow to the Build Back Better Act, two sources said.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke Sunday night after Manchin dealt a devastating blow to the Build Back Better Act, two sources familiar with the call said Monday.

The sources said that the call was cordial and that the two kept the door open to further negotiations after Manchin announced earlier in the day that he couldn't support the roughly $2 trillion legislation passed by the House. Biden and Manchin ended their call with an understanding that they would speak again, the sources said.

The call, first reported by Politico, signifies a ray of hope to Democrats that Biden's sweeping social spending and climate change bill isn't necessarily dead, even though Manchin has made it clear in public remarks that it would require major changes to have any chance of winning his vote.

Manchin over the past two days has insisted that all new programs in the bill continue for a decade and be funded for the full 10 years. The demands aren't an easy fix for Democrats, but they suggest that there is a road map to win him over.

Facing unanimous GOP opposition, the bill has no chance of reaching Biden's desk without Manchin in a Senate split 50-50 between the two parties. Manchin's announcement Sunday on Fox News, which was followed by a swift rebuke from the White House, raised questions about whether he would return to the negotiating table.

Manchin isn't usually one to hold grudges, said a friend and confidant who indicated that the fate of the Build Back Better Act won't hinge on the events of the past two days.

"The guy likes to get to yes," said the source, who requested anonymity to candidly explain Manchin's mindset. "I don't think it's dead until it's buried. And it's not buried."

On Monday, Manchin defended his explosive remarks from Sunday firmly opposing the House-passed bill, saying he was at his “wits' end” in talks with the White House.

In a lengthy radio interview, Manchin suggested that he was never going to be swayed by progressive Democrats no matter how much pressure he was under to support their proposals.

“We’ve been way far apart philosophically,” Manchin said on West Virginia Metro News’ “Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval,” noting that he has repeatedly pushed for a maximum of $1.5 trillion in spending, compared to the $3.5 trillion the White House and progressives pushed at first.

Manchin said he is “not blaming anybody” as far as what pushed him over the brink, but he said Democrats didn’t realize how steadfast he was. He said he wanted the measure to include work requirements and means-testing.

“I knew where they were, and I knew what they could and could not do. They just never realized it, because they figured surely to God we can move one person, surely we can badger and beat one person up, surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough,” he said. “Well, guess what? I'm from West Virginia. I'm not from where they're from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period.”

Manchin also cryptically suggested that something specific pushed him over the edge.

“They know the real reason what happened. They won’t tell you, and I’m not going to,” he said about the administration.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said repeatedly Monday that Biden views Manchin as a friend and that the White House will continue to work to get the bill passed.

"They're longtime friends — that has not changed — and what's most on the president's mind is the risk of inaction," Psaki said at a briefing, adding that "compromise isn't a dirty word" for Biden.

"The president continues to believe that they share a range of values, they share a commitment to helping working people, to helping lower costs for the American people. Our intention yesterday was to provide specific details to the American people about the events of the last few weeks," Psaki said.

Psaki also defended Sunday's uncharacteristically harsh response from the White House, in which she said Manchin's opposition to the bill contradicted private conversations and commitments he had made to the White House.

In his radio interview earlier Monday, Manchin said: “It's staff-driven. I understand staff. It’s not the president, it's the staff. And they drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable, and they know what it is, and that's it.”

Asked whether he was suggesting that Biden’s staff was putting out information that was generating criticism of him, Manchin said: “I'm just saying the bottom line. I knew that we could not change — it was never going to change. It never could change that many people.”

The Senate adjourned early Saturday, with Democrats missing their self-imposed Christmas deadline to vote on the social spending package. The House passed a version of the legislation last month.

Manchin said Monday that he told Senate Democratic leaders originally that the original Build Back Better plan was “very far-reaching.” He said he is much more concerned about inflation, the Covid pandemic and geopolitical divisions.

He criticized Democrats for approaching legislation “as if you have 55 or 60 senators that are Democrats and you can do whatever you want.”

“I think I still represent the centrist wing of a Democratic Party that has compassion but also has reasonability,” he said.

Manchin said the only reason he voted to move forward with the reconciliation process that resulted in the development of the Build Back Better bill was his desire to roll back the 2017 tax cuts signed by former President Donald Trump so that “everybody paid their fair share” in taxes.

And as for whether he thinks there’s still a place for him in the Democratic Party, he said: “I would like to hope there are still Democrats who think like I do. I'm fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. Now, if there are no Democrats like that, then they’ll have to push me where they want me."