WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Monday that activists who have confronted Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in recent days went too far, even as he described such confrontations as a common facet of life in politics.
“I don’t think they’re appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody,” Biden said in a question-and-answer session with reporters following a speech he gave about the debt ceiling.
Manchin and Sinema are both Democratic centrists whose resistance to the president’s $3.5 trillion domestic investment proposal known as Build Back Better has jeopardized that bill and a separate $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that has significant Republican support.
In response to the stalemate, progressive activists have increased their pressure on the holdouts. Last week, several protesters affiliated with the Center for Popular Democracy and other groups showed up in kayaks at the Potomac River dock in Washington, D.C., where Manchin keeps his houseboat, named Almost Heaven, a state motto inspired by a John Denver song. Manchin appeared on the deck to hear their concerns.
“We need you to stand with us,” the protesters said during the exchange, which they filmed.
On Sunday, immigration activists affiliated with Living United for Change in Arizona confronted Sinema in a building at Arizona State University, eventually following her into the bathroom.
While the $1.2 trillion bill includes funds to repair bridges and roads, and to bolster access to high-speed internet service, the $3.5 trillion package is more far-reaching, ambitious — and fraught. It includes funds for childcare, provisions for lowering prescription drug prices and measures to move the country toward adopting electric vehicles and using only clean sources of energy.
Manchin has said that $3.5 trillion — to be spent over 10 years — is an amount he is not willing to countenance. Sinema’s objections have been more difficult to parse, but seem to revolve around an aversion to raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to pay for the spending, as Democrats have proposed. The Democrats hold only a one-vote majority in the Senate, so either senator could sink the legislation.
Sinema returned to Arizona on Friday for what she said was a medical appointment, though it quickly emerged that she would be attending a fundraiser as well. Her absence from Washington angered Democrats who have been frustrated by the enigmatic Arizonan.
Some described the bathroom confrontation as harassment that would ultimately prove unproductive to the progressive cause. Sinema seemed unhappy about the encounter. “Yesterday’s behavior was not legitimate protest,” she said in a statement issued on Monday morning.
Biden’s half-century in public life has accustomed him to such tactics. “The only people it doesn’t happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around them. So it’s part of the process,” he said on Monday. Neither Sinema nor Manchin appeared to be in physical danger during their encounters with protesters and activists.
And the president did not shy away from blaming the two senators on Monday for threatening his party’s agenda. “I need 50 votes in the Senate. I have 48,” he said.
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