with Mariana Alfaro

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In some ways, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has built a national political career on telling voters what he won’t do.

Facing a 50-50 Senate, where any one Democrat can block President Biden’s agenda, absent GOP defections, the White House has no choice but to take notice when the former governor of the Mountain State voices his opposition.

Manchin did that this week with a Washington Post op-ed laying out his position on the filibuster, a parliamentary tactic that effectively means most legislation in the Senate needs 60 votes to pass.

 “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” he wrote.

Manchin had shouted his opposition to ending the filibuster before. Literally, as Biden might say.

So it’s the “weaken” part in his recent op-ed that appears to deserve more scrutiny. What would qualify as weakening that parliamentary stalling tactic, and therefore something Manchin opposes?

His spokesperson did not return an email seeking clarity on that question.

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail behind-the-scenes conversations, declined to join me in speculating what Manchin’s “weaken” might mean.

“The question of where he’s willing to do carve-outs, that’s a question for him,” the official said.

Manchin has long centered his political identity on his opposition to certain ideas.

When he ran for Senate in 2010, his most memorable ad possibly the most memorable ad by any candidate in that cycle centered on him loading a rifle and shooting Democratic cap-and-trade legislation to battle climate change in what must be the clearest “I won’t support this” message in modern politics.

In the commercial, Manchin also promised he wouldn’t tolerate erosions of Second Amendment rights, wouldn’t automatically go along with President Barack Obama’s administration, and wouldn’t let “the bad parts of Obamacare” remain law.

A decade later, here was Manchin promising in November 2020 he wouldn’t support progressive Democrats’ calls to add justices to the Supreme Court if his party swept Georgia’s two Senate races and controlled the chamber.

"With packing the courts, I'm not voting for that," Manchin told CNN.

In February 2021, Manchin vowed not to support Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package unless it had Republican support.

"I will only support moving in a bipartisan way," he said.

(It didn’t work out that way, but not before Manchin surprised fellow Democrats by saying at the last minute he would not go along with their extension of unemployment benefits, forcing changes to the bill.)

He also doomed Neera Tanden’s nomination to run the Office of Management and Budget. “I cannot support her,” he said in a statement.

More recently, he signaled that he wouldn’t support Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill if his party relies on a parliamentary tactic called reconciliation allowing them to pass the legislation without any GOP support.

I'm not going to do it through reconciliation. I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them [Republicans] out completely before we start trying," he told Axios

This is all a touch simplistic, of course. Manchin often gets attention for things he supports, like voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court or to make William Barr attorney general or vote to convict Donald Trump in both of his impeachment trials.

But it helps to explain why students of Manchine politics (go ahead and groan) study his statements of opposition closely. And that includes his latest salvo.

Some Democrats have pushed for creating a limited exception to the filibuster rules for legislation on civil rights and voting matters, my colleagues Amy Gardner and Mike DeBonis reported last month.

That would appear to qualify as “weaken” for Manchin, since his latest op-ed proudly underlined his 2013 opposition to exempting nominations to Cabinet-level posts and federal judgeships, and vote against making Supreme Court nominations a simple-majority question in 2017 both effectively carve-outs.

What about Biden’s push, in his March 25 news conference, to return to the days when senators actually had to talk to prevent a bill from advancing?

“It used to be you had to stand there and talk and talk and talk and talk until you collapsed. And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing. Filibusters broke down, and we were able to break the filibuster, get a quorum, and vote,” Biden said. “I strongly support moving in that direction.”

In early March, Manchin seemed to suggest he held a similar view during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.

“The filibuster should be painful. It really should be painful. And we have made it more comfortable over the years, not intentionally. Maybe it just evolved into that,” he said. “Maybe it has to be more painful. Maybe you have to stand there.”

He had much the same message on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“If you want to make it [filibustering] a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk, I'm willing to look at any way we can,” Manchin said. “But I'm not willing to take away the involvement of the minority.”

What’s happening now

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., appear likely to vote against unionization in a major win for the e-commerce giant, Jay Greene reports

Biden will today unveil a commission to study possible expansion of Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission comes amid liberal calls for expansion to blunt the court’s conservative majority,Tyler Pager reports. The commission will include as many as three dozen people and fulfill Biden’s campaign promise to study changes to the court. 

“The 4,049-foot La Soufrière volcano erupted on St. Vincent early this morning, sending a two-mile high cloud of ash bellowing above the tropical Caribbean island just hours after surrounding communities were ordered to evacuate,” Teo Armus and Anthony Faiola report. “No deaths or injuries have yet been reported.” 

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial continued this morning with a forensic pathologist saying George Floyd’s death was due to “the activities of the law enforcement officers.” “Lindsey Thomas, a consulting forensic pathologist in Minneapolis, told prosecutors that Floyd’s passing was ‘not a sudden cardiac death,’” Timothy Bella reports. “She said the officers, and their restraint on Floyd, were ‘the mechanism for inadequate oxygen.’”

Biden and First Lady Jill Biden paid tribute to the late Prince Philip, who passed away at 99. "The impact of his decades of devoted public service is evident in the worthy causes he lifted up as patron, in the environmental efforts he championed, in the members of the Armed Forces that he supported, in the young people he inspired, and so much more," the Bidens said in a joint statement. 

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Trump officials celebrated efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus virus, emails show, by Dan Diamond. “Trump appointees in the Health and Human Services department last year privately touted their efforts to block or alter scientists’ reports on the coronavirus to more closely align with Trump’s more optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators.
  • More: “Then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to then-HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo on Sept. 9, 2020, touting two examples of where he said officials at the CDC had bowed to his pressure and changed language in their reports, according to an email obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak. Pointing to one change — where CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence of a report about spread of the virus among younger people after Alexander pressured them — Alexander wrote to Caputo, calling it a ‘small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!’
  • Bottom line: The documents, Diamond notes, provide further insight into how Trump officials approached the explosion of cases in the U.S. by attempting to blunt career scientists’ “messages, edit their findings and equip the president with an alternate set of talking points.”
  • Days of violence in Northern Ireland blamed in part on Brexit,” by Amanda Ferguson and William Booth: “Police and politicians called it the worst violence in Northern Ireland in more than a decade, triggered in part by pro-British Protestant unionists who fear that their home is drifting away from Britain in the new realities of a post-Brexit world. ... On Wednesday, hundreds of Irish nationalist and unionist demonstrators began to face off, a worrying escalation that stirred old memories of the 30 years of sectarian violence known as the Troubles.”

… and beyond

  • "‘I have no idea where my daughter is,’: Migrant parents are desperate for news,” by the New York Times’s Miriam Jordan: “The government is still struggling to bring in people to staff [migrant children intake centers], and immigrant parents across the country, who often have no idea what happened to their children after they entered the United States, are growing increasingly desperate. ... The dearth of staff at every level, according to child-welfare experts, is one of the main reasons that, on average, only about 300 minors a day are being released, creating a frantic race for new bed space as more children cross the border.”
  • Vladimir Putin has a message: ‘Hey, Joe, are you listening?’ ” by the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser: “Russia’s strongman has sent an alarming buildup of troops and weaponry to the front lines with Ukraine. ... Inside Russia, Putin this week signed legislation allowing him to be leader for life — or at least until 2036, when he will be eighty-three years old. ... Putin’s leading political rival, the jailed dissident Alexey Navalny, meanwhile, is on a hunger strike. ... In Washington, Kremlinologists are convinced that these provocative actions constitute a deliberate effort by Putin to test America’s new President.”

The first 100 days

Biden’s “skinny” budget is here. 
  • The document dropped late this morning and asks lawmakers for $1.5 trillion in federal spending for fiscal year 2022. It's the president's first budget request and will be followed by a more formal plan in the spring.
  • But we can learn some things from this proposal, which greatly increases discretionary spending for education, health care and the environment.
  • The Education Department's budget would rise 41 percent, with most of the new money going to high-poverty schools. HHS would get a 23 percent boost, with $8.7 billion going to the CDC in the highest amount allocated to that agency in two decades. And public housing programs would get a 15 percent boost to $69 billion.
  • Big price tag: Remember, Biden's budget request comes after the recent enactment of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and his desire for a sweeping infrastructure plan is expected to cost about the same amount.
  • The budget does not include tax proposals or mandatory spending for Social Security and Medicare, per the Times.
  • The administration seeks $715 billion for the Pentagon, a modest increase from the current level, Politico reports. “That planned fiscal 2022 budget topline is up from the more than $704 billion allocated by lawmakers for this fiscal year. But it’s unlikely to satisfy factions of Republican defense hawks seeking to continue major increases in military spending, and progressive Democrats who want to enact steep cuts to the defense budget.”
Proposed changes to base discretionary funding in Biden's budget:

The future of the GOP

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who is under a federal investigation related to sex-trafficking laws, will speak at a conservative women’s conference at Trump’s golf resort. 
  • Gaetz is scheduled to speak tonight at the event hosted by Women for America First, Jaclyn Peiser and John Wagner report. The group of conservative women helped orchestrate the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol riots.
  • Leaders of the group have defended Gaetz’s appearance, saying he is “innocent until proven guilty.” Gaetz has denied allegations he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
  • Others scheduled to appear at the “Save America Summit” include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.).
Only one Republican House member — Illinois’s Adam Kinzinger — has officially called on Gaetz to resign.
  • “‘Matt Gaetz needs to resign,’ Kinzinger said in a tweet in which he attached a news report about 2018 Venmo transactions between Gaetz and accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, Wagner reports.
  • “While Kinzinger is calling on Gaetz to leave Congress, top House Republican leaders, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.), have had little to say about the matter. Last week, McCarthy said that Gaetz should be removed from the House Judiciary Committee if the allegations prove true but noted that Gaetz had denied wrongdoing.”
Trump and an array of other 2024 Republican hopefuls are converging on Palm Beach, Fla., this weekend for an RNC donors retreat. 
  • “Much of the gathering will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach, but donors are scheduled to convene at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club for a portion of the program on Saturday, when he is expected to speak,” Wagner reports.
  • “Others eyeing 2024 White House bids who are expected to appear include former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem and Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rick Scott (Fla.).”
  • Jonathan Martin and Nicholas Fandos report for the Times on the “gravitational hold” Trump still has on the GOP. The result, confusion about what the GOP stands for: “Republicans have embraced fights over seemingly small-bore issues to make a larger argument: By emphasizing the withdrawal from publication of a handful of racially insensitive Dr. Seuss books; the rights of transgender people; and the willingness of large institutions or corporations like Major League Baseball and Coca-Cola to side with Democrats on voting rights, the right is attempting to portray a nation in the grip of elites obsessed with identity politics,” writes the Times.
In his new memoir, former House speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says today’s GOP is unrecognizable. 
  • The party, Boehner writes, is being held hostage by both Trump and a “conservative media echo chamber that is based on creating ‘chaos’ for its own financial needs,” Paul Kane, Colby Itkowitz and Aaron Blake report.
  • Boehner said he was happy to be away from Washington when Trump was inaugurated, saying he wasn’t sure he “belonged to the Republican Party [Trump] created.” “I don’t even think I could get elected in today’s Republican Party anyway. I don’t think Ronald Reagan could either,” he writes in the book.
  • “At several points in the book, Boehner compares himself to Nancy Pelosi, of whom he speaks with a mix of reverence and distaste for her leadership style as speaker,” our colleagues note. “Boehner later describes how Pelosi kept an ‘iron grip’ on her members, not tolerating any ‘dissension in her ranks.’ ‘Even if I wanted to, I could never operate like Pelosi did,’ he writes.”

More notably, perhaps, is that Boehner regrets his support for impeaching Bill Clinton.  

  • “I know what we all said at the time: Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath. In my view, Republicans impeached him for one reason and one reason only,” Boehner writes, “Tom DeLay believed that impeaching Clinton would win us all these House seats, would be a big win politically, and he convinced enough of the membership and the GOP base that this was true.” The gambit backfired as Republicans lost five seats that year.
  • In retrospect, he writes, Clinton’s behavior didn’t rise to impeachment charges. “Clinton probably did commit perjury. That’s not a good thing. But lying about an affair to save yourself from embarrassment isn’t the same as lying about an issue of national security,” Boehner writes.

Quote of the day

“The legislative terrorism that I’d witnessed as speaker had now encouraged actual terrorism,” Boehner writes in his book, drawing a direct line from anti-establishment lawmakers he dealt with last decade to congressional Republicans who supported Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. 

The pandemic

Trump officials celebrated efforts to change CDC reports on the virus, emails show. 
There are more shots available in the U.S. The rising challenge, though, is getting people to take them.
  • “When it comes to getting the coronavirus vaccine, Mississippi residents have an abundance of options. On Thursday, there were more than 73,000 slots to be had on the state’s scheduling website, up from 68,000 on Tuesday,” the Times’s Andrew Jacobs reports. "But public health experts say the pileup of unclaimed appointments in Mississippi exposes something more worrisome: the large number of people who are reluctant to get inoculated.”
  • “Though access remains a problem in rural Mississippi, experts say that the state — one of the first to open eligibility to all adults three weeks ago — may be a harbinger of what much of the country will confront in the coming weeks, as increasing supplies enable most Americans who want the vaccine to easily make appointments.” In Mississippi, only a quarter of all residents have received at least one dose compared to the nationwide average of 33 percent. Other southern states, including Tennessee and Georgia, have similarly low rates of vaccination.
  • “A closer look at Mississippi’s demographics explains why hesitancy may be especially pronounced. The state reliably votes Republican, a group that remains highly skeptical of the coronavirus vaccine... Another factor in the state’s low vaccination rate may be Mississippi’s large Black community. ... Vaccine hesitancy remains somewhat high among African-Americans, though the doubts and distrust ... have markedly declined in recent months.”

Hot on the right

Trump endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) reelection bid for a Senate seat his daughter Ivanka eyed. Trump offered his “Complete and Total Endorsement” to Rubio, calling him a “a tireless advocate for the people of Florida” in a statement that cited his support during Trump’s presidency for cutting taxes, protecting gun rights and funding the military, Wagner reports

The Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is backing the reelection of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whom Trump has vowed to defeat, Wagner reports. “The PAC’s endorsement comes in the wake of last week’s announcement by Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who leads the Alaska Department of Administration, that she will try to unseat Murkowski next year. Several of Trump’s top 2020 campaign aides are now working for Tshibaka.”

Hot on the left

Hunter Biden, in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, said the story on his laptop was a “red herring” and called out Donald Trump Jr. The younger Biden, who was there to promote his new memoir, was introduced as “probably the most famous board member of a Ukrainian energy company of all time.” Kimmel, replying to his guest’s claims that he could not remember dropping off the laptop at a Delaware repair shop, said that seems hard to believe “unless you read the book. Then it’s like, I’m surprised you have shoes on.” “It is absolutely a red herring,” Biden said. “But I am absolutely, I think, within my rights to question anything that comes from the desk of Rudy Giuliani." Biden also defended his former role in the board of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company, citing his résumé and saying he’s been on the boards of other organizations before. Kimmel asked Biden if it makes him “crazy” when people like Trump Jr. say he’s only been successful because he’s Joe Biden’s son. “It is wildly comical,” Biden said. When Kimmel asked him if he has ever met Trump Jr., Biden said, “Not that I know of,” before adding, “But I’ve been in some pretty rough places.” 

Southern border encounters, visualized

The Biden administration appears to be spending at least $60 million per week to care for the migrant teenagers and children in shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to an analysis of government data obtained by The Post.

This weekend in Washington

Biden and Vice President Harris will receive their weekly economic briefing today at 2:45 p.m. 

The first lady will head to Alabama to tout the benefits of the $1.9 trillion relief package. She will no longer be joined by actress Jennifer Garner. 

In closing

Stephen Colbert is slowly tracking the Gaetz Gate: