Rep. Bowman on the progressive response to Manchin’s Build Back Better backtrack

In the three days since Sen. Joe Manchin threw up a massive roadblock on the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda, Democrats have begun the scramble to salvage the bill or at least its key priorities. For progressives, the breakdown was what they feared all along. Yamiche Alcindor talks to New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman about progressives' frustrations.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the three days since Senator Joe Manchin threw up a massive roadblock on the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda, Democrats have begun the scramble to salvage the bill or at least its key priorities.

    For progressives, the breakdown was what they feared all along.

    Yamiche Alcindor talks with one House Democrat about the road ahead.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Judy, last month, just six House Democrats voted against a bipartisan infrastructure bill, because they wanted a vote on the larger social spending plan at the same time. Now they are expressing frustration with Senator Manchin for holding up the bill.

    New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman is one of them, and he joins me now.

    Thank you so much for being here, Congressman.

    So, the White House put out the statement on Sunday saying that Senator Manchin had made a breach of commitment to the president, to senators, as well as to House members. But then the next day, the House — the White House press secretary, she said that Joe Manchin and President Biden are very longtime friends.

    What do you make of that change in tone? And what do you think led to it as you talk to your fellow lawmakers?

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY):

    So, I'm hoping the change in tone means that we are moving one step closer towards passing the Build Back Better Act in some form.

    I know Manchin came out on Sunday saying that he was a no, which prompted the White House's strong response, which I was happy to see, because they had been negotiating in good faith with Manchin for several weeks now. And I think the pivot in tone hopefully indicates that Manchin is ready to move forward in some capacity.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    I want to then also ask you, in talking about finding common ground, you said: "Senator Manchin doesn't care about black people, Latinos, immigrants, women, the poor."

    How concerned are you that that makes it harder to find common ground?

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman:

    You know, it's important for us to have honest conversations about Congress, how it works and our overall democracy.

    And a racial analysis is needed as we have those conversations. So, Build Back Better disproportionately supports people of color, whereas many of the policies we pass through Congress does not. And it is important to ask the question, does him being a white male have anything to do with how he approaches policies like this and how he approaches governing overall?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And, of course, Senator Manchin says that he is representing the sort of needs and concerns of people in West Virginia.

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman:

    Yes, sure, that's great.

    You know, it's just, in terms of poverty rates in West Virginia, in terms of child poverty rates in West Virginia and other social determinants of positive outcomes, West Virginia really struggles in those areas.

    And I have heard from people from West Virginia who thanked me for many of my comments because they feel afraid or intimidated to even say anything or challenge the senator in any of these areas.

    So, the senator has to do what he has to do, obviously, for West Virginia, but also for the entire country. And I just think this idea of trickle-down economics and the way our current economic system works just leaves too many people behind.

    And that's something that has been unacceptable, and that's something I'm always going to push back against.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he has been openly pitching Senator Manchin joining the Republican Party.

    In your mind, is there room in the Democratic Party, this current Democratic Party, for someone like Senator Manchin?

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman:

    That's a great question. And I would have to say yes, because the party is a big tent.

    I just think Senator Manchin and others in the party too, because it's not just him, need to get on board in what is happening in the 21st century economy, and our beautiful 21st century multiracial democracy. We have to make sure everyone is involved.

    We, meaning the Democratic Party, in particular, have to make sure that our big tent is fully represented in our democracy and that everyone has a voice. This is not just an old boys' network.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, both the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, as well as the chair of the moderate New Democratic Coalition, they both said, of course, and acknowledged that Joe Manchin, he is going to need to vote for whatever Democrats want to pass.

    What are you willing to compromise on? Are you willing at all to maybe break up this bill and vote on parts of it, and maybe have President Biden pass executive orders on other parts?

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman:

    We have already compromised from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, from 10 years to five years to six years. If Manchin has a 1.8 proposal, let's see what that is like, let's see what ours is like, and see where maybe small, tiny compromises, maybe in terms of years, can happen.

    But in term its of programs, these programs are absolutely needed, because we don't even see a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to this pandemic. So, we have got to double down, and double down pretty urgently.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, if you are doubling down and Senator Manchin is saying is he not going to support the Build Back Better Act as it is now and wants to cut programs, are you worried that the perfect will be the enemy of the good here and that you might not get anything done trying to get something perfect done?

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman:

    So, remember, we have already compromised, right, from 3.5 to 1.75.

    But let's zoom out for a second. When we talk about perfect being the enemy of the good, we still need to get voting rights done. We still need to get women's reproductive rights done. We need to get immigration reform done. We need to get George Floyd done. We need commonsense gun laws done.

    And I think it is important for the American people to see that these bills have passed the House. They have passed the House with strong support from the Democratic Party. And they are stalling, sitting and dying in the Senate. Why is that?

    What Senate rules are in place, like the filibuster, that stops this legislation from moving forward, and why do we have senators who are more responsive to their donors and special interests than they are to the American people?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, we will surely keep following this story and following the legislation as it moves through Congress.

    Thank you so much, Representative Bowman.

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman:

    Thank you for having me.

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