Biden singles out Senate Democrats Manchin and Sinema, White House downplays remarks

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden appeared to single out two moderate Democratic senators as obstacles to passing parts of his agenda, yet the White House insisted Biden was not being critical of them.

On Tuesday, Biden referenced Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, while he discussed his support for the For the People Act voting rights bill during remarks commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre in Oklahoma.

Though he didn’t mention them by name, Biden referred to “two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.”

“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’” Biden said. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends. But we’re not giving up.”

Manchin and Sinema have drawn frequent criticism from their fellow Democrats for their opposition to getting rid of the filibuster, a legislative hurdle that has stopped Democratic legislation on gun control, LGBTQ rights and immigration reform.

To overcome a filibuster to get a bill to a vote, Democrats need the support of at least 10 Republicans, which has led to a lot of stalled bills in the early months of Biden’s presidency. The Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democratic caucus members.

Asked Wednesday after Biden’s remarks whether she is going to budge on the filibuster, Sinema responded, “No.”

President Joe Biden speaks commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre on June 1, 2021 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo: Brandon Bell, Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki downplayed the remarks Wednesday, insisting the president wasn’t criticizing the senators. She said Biden considers Sinema and Manchin “friends” and “good working partners.”

She said Biden wasn’t suggesting Manchin and Sinema are standing in the way of the president’s agenda and that he wasn’t taking a new position on the filibuster. Biden, who served as a senator for 36 years, has stopped short of calling for the elimination of the filibuster, but pushed for a return to the “talking filibuster” which is more difficult for lawmakers of the minority party to maintain.

“If Sen. Manchin and Sen. Sinema were standing with me here today – they’re always welcome – they would call out their own independent streak,” Psaki said. “And that’s something that I think they’re both proud of.”

Psaki suggested Biden wasn’t even articulating his own views but those of pundits on television, noting that he began his remarks saying, “I hear all the folks on TV saying, “Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’”

“Now as a former TV pundit myself, I can tell you sometimes these conversations can be oversimplified,” Psaki said. “TV isn’t always made for complex conversations about policy-making. We all know that, right?”

She added: “He wasn’t intending to convey anything other than a little commentary on TV punditry.”

The offices of Manchin and Sinema declined to comment Wednesday when asked by USA TODAY.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Sinema and Manchin have voted with Biden 100% of the time, including for his COVID-19 stimulus plan that passed in March. 

9 bills from guns to George Floyd to the ERA wait in the Senate: Will any get enough Republican support to pass?

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., heads to a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 21, 2021. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

Arizona: Kyrsten Sinema     • Est. net worth: NA     • Party affiliation: Democratic     • Assumed office: 2019     • Current term ends: 2025 (Photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Biden’s remarks come as the Senate is charging ahead on the For the People Act, which is backed by Democrats and widely criticized by Republicans and would override actions taken by Republican-led state legislatures to restrict voting following the 2020 election.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote to colleagues Friday he would be bringing the sweeping voting rightsbill to a vote the last week of June. Manchin is the only Democratic senator who has not signed on as a cosponsor on the For the People Act. 

Contributing: Ledge King, USA TODAY; The Associated Press 

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