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

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told colleagues to expect votes next month on the safety net package and a rules change to pass voting rights legislation.

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

Multiple sources familiar with the call confirmed that Manchin, D-W.Va., attended.

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 of the bill threw its 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, D-N.Y., said in 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 he mostly listened and let everyone say their piece. Manchin spoke in the beginning, largely reiterating his concerns with the bill, the source said.

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

“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 do not 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 to expand access to the ballot box and safeguard against election subversion. The 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 he 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 were the closest Schumer has come to endorsing changes to the filibuster to pass an election overhaul. For more than a year, Schumer has trod 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 do not currently have.

Schumer made it clear this week that the Senate would hold the vote, forcing Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who also supports the 60-vote threshold, to make their positions 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," he wrote in Monday's letter.

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

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 simple majorities.

In Monday's letter, Schumer quoted Robert C. Byrd, the late senator whose seat Manchin now holds, as saying Senate rules that previously made sense "must be changed to reflect changed circumstances."