In this Dec. 17, 2021, file photo, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, walks to a caucus lunch at the Capitol in Washington. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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President Joe Biden isn’t exactly having a good time lately. Since the beginning of November, there has not been a single public poll that has shown him with an approval rating above 50 percent, and in fact, a total of seven national polls have shown him with an approval rating in the mid-to-high 30 percent range. FiveThirtyEight currently places Biden’s aggregate approval rating at 43.6 percent, and his disapproval at 51.7 percent.

That’s bad, but Biden is hardly the only president in recent years to face approval rating challenges. Since the second term of President George W. Bush, in fact, it seems every president has struggled to maintain support above the mid-40s.

Biden has believed for some time now that passage of the Build Back Better Act would help reverse the trend for him. The legislation is such a game-changer, the logic goes, that once it begins to be implemented the American people will respond, and his lost support will return.

Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress had hoped, at one point, that the political deliverance would arrive by Christmas. Alas, a Grinch has been lurking in the senatorial office of Joe Manchin, and on Sunday Manchin dropped a lump of coal in the president’s stocking.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” Manchin said in an appearance Sunday on Fox News, referring to Build Back Better, “I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.”

With the partisan makeup of the Senate being what it is, Manchin’s refusal to vote for the bill has effectively killed any hope that it will be passed. At least for now.

No one knows the exact reason why Manchin suddenly abandoned Build Back Better. Perhaps his shoes were too tight, or his head wasn’t screwed on just right. Maybe it was just that his heart was two sizes too small.

Whatever Manchin’s reason for killing the legislation, the rage of the White House was immediate and vitriolic. “If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”

Ouch.

Psaki and the White House, of course, weren’t alone in their anger.

“I hope that we will bring a strong bill to the floor of the Senate as soon as we can and let Mr. Manchin explain to the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t have the guts to stand up to the powerful special interests,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday. “If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

Reading Sanders’ statement does make one wonder whether he has any grasp on politics. What Manchin did — defying an unpopular Democratic president in a state that voted for Trump by 40 points in 2020 — only bolstered his independent credentials, and strengthened his political standing back home. Let’s not forget this is the guy who literally shot President Barack Obama’s cap and trade legislation in a 2010 campaign ad.

Further, you do have to wonder why the White House or Sanders think that blowing up Manchin like this is going to result in him reconsidering his vote, and them ultimately getting what they want. This level of hostility will likely only guarantee the bill dies. If they aren’t careful, they might even push Manchin into the Republican Party. All of which seems even more foolish when you realize that Manchin proposed a $1.8 trillion package to Biden last week.

What would you rather have in the end? Nothing, or a marginally smaller version of the legislation you hope to stake your legacy on? The arrogance of the White House in this situation is stunning.

Still, in the end Biden shouldn’t worry much about this. Manchin and the president have already had additional conversations, and there seems to have been a private assurance that discussions will resume in the new year.

So take heart, Mr. President. We don’t always get what we want for Christmas, but for all his posturing now, Manchin’s heart will eventually grow three sizes in January, and he will vote for your bill. Then we’ll see if your flagging poll numbers rebound and the American people fall back in love with you by Valentine’s Day.


Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...