It took a direct call from President Biden and significant concessions to get the senator on board.
The Senate was more than two hours into a vote on Friday afternoon as Jon Tester and several fellow Democrats pleaded with Joe Manchin.
The voluble West Virginian was talking with his colleagues, but even after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) implored him to move forward on a compromise approach to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid aid bill, she and Tester weren’t getting anywhere. Tester didn’t understand quite where Manchin was coming from as he resisted what Democratic leaders had already marketed as a popular compromise
“I was trying to get Joe to work with Chuck [Schumer] to move this process forward,” Tester said. Asked on Friday evening what Manchin’s issue was, the Montanan said: “I don’t know. I really don’t.”
Manchin’s outsized influence has cast its shadow over the Senate since the day the Democrats captured their scant 50-50 majority. He’s already derailed a Cabinet nominee and led the opposition to a federal $15 minimum wage even as his party’s leaders pushed for it. But Friday was Manchin’s most quintessential moment: The centrist Democrat paralyzed the entire Senate for more than 10 hours and threatened to side with Republicans seeking to cut weeks of unemployment benefits