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Lena I. Jackson
Lena I. Jackson
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As Democrats work to reach an agreement on trillions of dollars of government spending, the fate of the reconciliation bill's final cost — and the passage of the president's overall legislative agenda — largely hinges on support from two key, influential Democratic senators: West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema. Lisa Desjardins and Stephanie Sy break down their stances.
As Democrats work to reach an agreement on trillions of dollars of government spending, the fate of the bill's final price tag and the successful passage of the president's overall legislative agenda largely hinges on receiving support from two key influential Democratic senators, West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema.
We have reports on how they each think about politics and the pressures they face in their home states, beginning with Lisa Desjardins, who's back, but she was in the Mountain State.
In West Virginia, high school football gets you full-throated field rushing tradition and a stadium full of political insight from those who've known Joe Manchin the longest.
His office was right next door to mine.
We went to the same church for a while.
He fishes at where I wish.
I was probably a freshman when he is senior year quarterbacking, yes.
They're from Joe Manchin's home county, where his identity was forged, starting on the football field as a standout player. But now the game and winning are much more complicated.
I just not — don't agree with his politics.
From right of center.
Not the way they're taking over the United States. Everything's wrong.
And from left.
I think he's letting the Democratic Party down.
Stephanie Cummons, West Virginia:
Now, the brick house, the there, the Manchins house.
Stephanie Cummons gives us a tour of Farmington, her hometown and Manchin's.
Does everybody know Joe Manchin here?
If they don't, they know a cousin or a brother or some type of relation.
Four hundred people and one stoplight, Farmington was built up by coal miners. For those wondering why Manchin is a Democrat, much of it is here.
Cummons and her grandmother, who live next to each other, point to the tight-knit immigrant community.
Italians, you had Czech, Croatians, Polish, all these different countries. But when they got here, they were all on an even kind of playing field.
This building was the Manchins' grocery store. They also owned the furniture store where Manchin worked.
The stores and family framed his brand of Democrat. His family regularly helped struggling miners with food and clothes. And everyone was expected to work hard.
You don't get things for free, but, at the same time, being in that environment, he saw all the good deeds and the way they kind of paid it forward to other families.
Meredith Bannock, West Virginia:
He always stood out because he wanted to help.
Over 20 years, Manchin rose from state delegate to governor. Skilled at reading political winds, he worked by forcing opposite sides to talk.
And Manchin often got his way, cutting taxes, while expanding a few pieces of the social safety net. Here he is at the 2008 Democratic Convention.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV):
We reduced the size of government and tackled our debts. Now the time has come for Washington to follow our example and bridge partisan divides to bring America the change it needs.
That year, as governor, Manchin swept every county in the state. But just a decade later, in 2018, Senator Manchin barely won.
The state has shifted dramatically to the right. Some Democrats are shifting on Manchin too, with pressure from home state and younger progressives, worried that he's blowing it on big issues.
Jarryd Powell, College Student:
There are some things, they're, like, existential right now, climate change, existential, the state of the pandemic, where we're on fire right now, existential.
Twenty-year-old Jarryd Powell shows us the pictures of his beloved dad, who died of COVID last year.
That chair right there, that was the last seat he got to sit in, in this house, because he had to search for an insurance card.
Powell wants government to do more than Manchin does. He remembers a teacher offering to keep him fed when his dad lost his job.
I took from the lesson how, like, to be a West Virginian. It's like we care for those that need care.
He believes Manchin has good intentions.
But is he making the kinds of deals you think should be made right now for the country?
State Sen. Mike Caputo (D-WV):
I don't know what — how long this window of opportunity for Democrats is going to remain open in Washington.
That's Mike Caputo, current state senator, Manchin ally and longtime union leader for miners. Manchin was governor during two major coal disasters, with 41 deaths, and afterward led pushes on mining safety and miner benefits.
State Sen. Mike Caputo :
His care about health and safety on the job makes him a Democrat.
And, of course, coal is a major factor in Manchin's pushback at climate change ideas. On most everything else, Caputo wants Manchin to lean more left. But he sees the headlines and anger from outside groups and says those miscalculate.
I think he makes his decision based on what he believes is the right thing to do for West Virginia. And I don't think he will cave to that type of outside pressure.
And from voters here, we heard one critique the most, that Manchin sits on the fence too often and for too long, but not in doubt, that Manchin is the same middle-of-the-road Democrat who was first elected to office 40 years ago.
In Farmington, West Virginia, I'm Lisa Desjardins.
I'm Stephanie Sy in front of the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, where Kyrsten Sinema started her political career.
Unlike Senator Joe Manchin, Sinema was not always the centrist willing to reach across the aisle. In fact, in her activist days, she used to attend protests regularly on this very lawn. Her reputation was as a liberal flamethrower. Her move to the center has confounded and angered progressive Democrats.
Kyrsten Sinema used to lead protests. Now the tables have turned. Since the summer, she's been the target of anger by activists in the Democratic Party, from the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to workers rights leader Dolores Huerta, who last week melted an ice sculpture of Senator Sinema in effigy.
Like this beautiful ice statue that we have here, your support, Senator Sinema, is going to melt away.
Channel Powe, an educational and political consultant in Phoenix, says she's volunteered for Sinema for more than a decade.
Channel Powe,Phoenix Resident:
I would cling to her every word. And she would talk about having the proper education and knowing how to interact with opposing views.
But it was always still standing on your values. It wasn't selling out, right? I remember Kyrsten when she was approachable.
David Wells, Arizona State University:
She definitely would be classified as a liberal
David Wells, a political science professor at Arizona State university attended rallies with Sinema protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's watched her political arc.
She ran for legislature for the first time as an independent. She wanted to be outside the two parties. And she worked really hard, but she lost. And then she ran as a Democrat and won in the House.
From there to the state Senate, and then elected to Congress.
I like the fact how she kind of — she kind of bucked the status quo at the time, and really standing up as if she was the people's champion.
In 2018, she became the first Democrat elected to represent Arizona in the Senate since 1995 and the first woman.
Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ):
Arizonans don't care whether you have an R or a D at the end of your name. What they care about is whether or not you're able to deliver real results for everyday Arizonans.
Rick Ireland, Phoenix Resident:
I'm an old man and I'm a former Republican. And…
And you're a conservative.
OK, so what do you like about Senator Sinema?
Everything. She's young. She's cute. She's 42 years old. She has two master's. She has a law degree. And she's run in two Iron Mans.
Rick Ireland is a staunch Sinema supporter.
When I tell people that I was on her selection committee, they would say, do you know who she is? You know, she's very liberal. She wears pink tutus and she's anti this and she's anti that.
But Ireland, a former Army officer and businessman, sees beyond her brazen fashion statements and early activism, and says she's grown up.
Kyrsten is — to me, is neither right nor left. She's right down the middle. She reminds me of my political hero in this state, and that's John McCain.
John McCain was Arizona's senator for more than three decades, and there are signs Senator Sinema has taken cues from the man known as a maverick.
Last March, Sinema voted no to increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour in a COVID stimulus bill.
Ms. Sinema. Ms. Sinema, no.
Giving a thumbs down, echoing McCain's game-changing vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act.
But for Channel Powe, Sinema's performance that day was a stab in the heart.
I got goose bumps, right, because she know. Again, these are the same families from the organizers who have been knocking on doors and making phone calls and persuading voters to vote for her to say that she was going to be our champion.
This sentiment may put Sinema at risk if she faces a Democratic primary challenger in 2024.
But David Wells says Sinema's shift to the middle reflects her pragmatic side and her view toward the long game.
And the Republicans are going have a very hard time running anybody of note against her.
An unlikely duo, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, two senators, two critical votes deciding the Democratic agenda in Washington.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy in Phoenix, Arizona.
And Lisa joins me again.
So, Lisa, you and Stephanie both looking at these two senators, their background, their politics. But what do you know, what do we know about their role as negotiators right now?
There's so much to say.
They are actually very different kind of negotiators. Both of them try to forge compromise. They're both good at it. However, from my reporting, what's happening right now, Kyrsten Sinema is a policy wonk. She has spreadsheets. She's looking at different kinds of policies in reconciliation, how much they cost, what they mean.
Joe Manchin, he's looking at the 30,000-foot view. He's got maybe six or seven overarching goals, but he's not getting into the weeds. What he wants is for the opposing sides to come together and duke it out in a room and then get into the weeds.
They're also a little different in terms of how they work with their states. Joe Manchin is a son of West Virginia. And someone told me, everyone has his cell phone in West Virginia. I asked 134 people, random people that I didn't know. Three of them did have Joe Manchin's cell phone, and about 60 of them said, I know someone who has Joe Manchin's cell phone.
His cell phone went off today during his news conference. So, his greatest influence comes from his state. And that's something to know.
The other thing that we need to say about these two individuals is their — what they face in terms of the election. They are both up in 2024.
What are the political calculations at this moment, looking ahead.
Kyrsten Sinema is from a purple state where there are very sort of fractured divides politically.
Now, there is a big question for both of these lawmakers. Does Donald Trump run for president in 2024? That will affect their fates dramatically. Now, however, Kyrsten Sinema, it's a little different there, where we saw Joe Biden win.
For Joe Manchin, he has survived in one of the most Trump states in the country. But it will make things harder for him if Trump runs. That's part of their, I think thinking right now. They both want to stay representing and serving their states in four years. They also are hearing a lot from what their constituents, political, say about what this means for their party.
So, those are the two dynamics that are difficult for them right now.
It's over three years away, but it's still very much in the — focus.
Yes. It is.
Lisa Desjardins, thank you again.
Watch the Full Episode
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
Stephanie Sy is a PBS NewsHour correspondent and serves as anchor of PBS NewsHour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior to joining NewsHour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
Matt Loffman is the PBS NewsHour's Deputy Senior Politics Producer
Casey is a producer for NewsHour's digital video team.
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