Divining which way the Senate's swingiest vote will go is the Washington parlor game of the moment. And Manchin isn't exactly making it easier for those who want to see inside his head. He recently called for a “strategic pause” on President Biden's $3.5 trillion budget bill, and made it clear he won't support “anywhere near” that number “without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”
Few Democrats expect Manchin to unilaterally torpedo a bill that President Biden has championed as the main plank of his domestic agenda. But Kott, a former senior adviser and communications director to Manchin, said making any assumptions about what Manchin will or won't do is a mistake.
“Don’t assume he’s going to vote any way until he actually casts his vote,” he said in an interview. “I went with him to almost every vote and there were times when he made up his decision when he walked onto the floor.”
“There’s no way to sort of predict what he’s going to do.”
All the senator's men
Kott is one of a handful of former Manchin aides now on K Street who now spend much of their time serving as professional Manchin whisperers, advising clients on how Manchin thinks and, in some cases, lobbying his office.
Capitol Counsel, a prominent Washington lobbying firm, snapped up Kott in June. In case Kott’s Manchin bona fides were in any doubt, Manchin supplied a quote for the firm’s news release praising Kott as a “thoughtful communicator and tactician.”
Capitol Counsel wasn’t the only lobbying shop to poach a former Manchin aide after Democrats retook the Senate in January.
The lobbying firm Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid in March hired Patrick Hayes, a former Manchin chief of staff who's gone on to lobby Manchin's office. Crossroads Strategies and Jim Massie & Partners have also brought on Manchin alumni this year. And Larry Puccio, Manchin's longtime friend and former chief of staff while he was West Virginia's governor and secretary of state, registered as a federal lobbyist for the first time in February.
Some Manchin alumni who were already downtown, meanwhile, picked up new clients, including Hayden Rogers, a former Manchin chief of staff whom Qatar’s government hired in March as a foreign agent. The country’s contract with Rogers’s firm is worth a hefty $30,000 a month.
Senate ethics rules prohibit aides from lobbying their former bosses for a year after they leave the Hill, but those rules don’t apply to many former Manchin staffers because they’ve been gone for long enough already — in Puccio's case, he never worked for his Senate office in the first place. Kott, for instance, who went on to work for Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) after leaving Manchin's office, is barred from lobbying Coons until next year but has been in regular touch with Manchin and his office.
“I try not to call him because he’s a busy man but I know he’s available when needed,” Kott said.
What the profiles miss
There’s no shortage of material for those seeking to understand Manchin, who’s profiled repeatedly by seemingly every major news outlet over the past nine months: The Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, The New Yorker. But former Manchin aides say people still misunderstand him.
“What they miss about him is he’s open to any argument,” Kott said. “He will listen to everybody. People think he has set ways on what he believes. He doesn’t. … He only cares about what’s good for West Virginia.”
But Manchin is also animated by a deep need to seek out compromise.
Hayes, his former chief of staff, recalled out how Manchin years ago successfully pushed then-Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to surmount their differences and work together on what became a landmark chemical safety bill.
“His default position is to try to find a way to say yes,” Hayes said.
On the Hill
Senate parliamentarian: $3.5T budget can't include pathway to citizenship
The hits just keep coming: The Senate parliamentarian has ruled against Democrats’ plan to offer citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants through budget reconciliation, the latest blow to their policy ambitions, our colleague Maria Sacchetti reports. Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said the move would be a “tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.”
Congress returns to town today to a slew of self-created problems: a soft Sept. 27 pledge to moderates by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the No. 3 House Democrat, reaffirmed Sunday the leadership is “working hard” to hold a vote on the bill by Sept. 27 after he seemed to suggest on CNN earlier the timeline could slip.
A government shutdown will occur on Oct. 1 if lawmakers can't get their acts together, as well as possible debt default next month if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to insist the GOP won't help raise the debt ceiling, creating, as our own Paul Kane noted, a new rule out of thin air (a thing McConnell likes to do.) Pelosi ratcheted up the rhetoric on Sunday with a “Dear Colleague” saying a U.S. debt default would be “utterly unprecedented” and declaring raising the ceiling is a “shared responsibility."
- Tony Romm reports this morning on the slew of problems facing lawmakers and says that Democrats “privately have discussed coupling their measure to fund the government and provide disaster relief with a suspension of the debt ceiling.” Republicans, however, insist any debt hike needs to be done through the reconciliation process.
New from ‘Peril'
- “Graham agreed to hear Rudolph W. Giuliani out. In a Jan. 2 meeting arranged by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and held in his West Wing office, the South Carolina Republican met with Giuliani and his legal team to learn about findings they said could hand Trump a second term.”
- “Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney at the time, put forward a computer whiz who presented a mathematical formula suggesting Biden’s support in certain states was unrealistic.”
- “Graham, a lawyer and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, found the reasoning too abstract. He wanted hard evidence. ‘Give me some names,’ Graham said at the Saturday meeting. ‘You need to put it in writing. You need to show me the evidence.’”
At the White House
GOP governors demand meeting with Biden on border security
First in The Early: Twenty-six Republican governors will today issue a joint letter to Biden requesting a meeting in the next 15 days to discuss "the national security crisis" at the Southern border, according to the letter obtained by The Early 202. (That's every GOP governor except Vermont Gov. Phil Scott).
Led by Govs. Doug Ducey (Ariz.) and Greg Abbott (Texas) and notably signed by moderates like Govs. Charlie Baker (Mass.) and Larry Hogan (Md.) — the Republican governors write that the "months-long surge in illegal crossings has instigated an international humanitarian crisis, spurred a spike in international criminal activity, and opened the floodgates to human traffickers and drug smugglers endangering public health and safety in our states.”
- “We have heard directly from our constituents about the damage this crisis has caused in our states, and it is our duty as elected officials to act swiftly to protect our communities, as it is yours,” they write.
Some context via our Nick Miroff: “Illegal crossings along the U.S. southern border remained at decades-high levels last month despite the scorching summer heat.”
The letter comes as Biden has ramped up his criticisms of GOP governors for their handling of the coronavirus. Last week, he accused Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of "doing everything they can to undermine the lifesaving requirements" he's proposed.
What we’re reading:
- Jill Biden is chasing the President’s most elusive campaign promise: Unity. By the New York Times’s Katie Rogers.
- Sinema tells White House she’s opposed to current prescription drug plan. By Politico’s Laura Barrón-López.
- With abortion rights under threat, Democrats hope to go on offense. By the New York Times’s Trip Gabriel.
- Rich nations to miss climate fund goal even by 2025, Oxfam says. By Bloomberg’s John Ainger.
Emmys Watchlist: Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You”
And Netflix’s “The Crown”
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.