- Jamaal BowmanDemocratic congressmember representing New York’s 16th Congressional District.
President Biden’s signature $1.75 trillion Build Back Better package appears to be dead after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced on Fox News this Sunday he would not support the plan to expand the social safety net and combat the climate crisis. Without Manchin, Senate Democrats do not have enough votes to pass the landmark legislation, which has already been approved by the House. We speak with Congressmember Jamaal Bowman, who is one of six progressive Democrats in the House who correctly predicted that his party’s decision to vote on the infrastructure bill prior to the Build Back Better package — as opposed to voting on them together — would risk throwing the $1.75 trillion package into jeopardy. “Special interests have been heavily involved in the negotiation process for Build Back Better throughout this entire year,” says Bowman. President Biden “all but promised that he would be able to deliver Manchin,” continues Bowman, “and as we can see, that has not happened.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
President Biden’s signature $2 trillion Build Back Better package appears to be dead, after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced Sunday he won’t support the plan to vastly expand the social safety net and combat the climate crisis. Without Manchin’s vote, Senate Democrats don’t appear to have a way to pass the legislation, which has already been approved by the House. Despite this, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced this morning plans to proceed with a vote in January. Joe Manchin made his announcement on Fox News.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: You know my concerns I had, and I still have these concerns. And where I’m at right now, the inflation that I was concerned about, it’s not transitory, it’s real. It’s harming every West Virginian. It’s making it almost difficult for them to continue to go to their jobs. The cost of gasoline, the cost of groceries, the cost of utility bills — all of these things are hitting in every aspect of their life. And you start looking — and then you have the debt that we’re carrying at $29 trillion, and you have also the geopolitical unrest that we have. You have the COVID, the COVID variant, and that is wreaking havoc again. People are concerned. I’ve been with my family. I know everyone’s concerned.
So when you have these things coming at you the way they are now, I’ve always said this, Bret: If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Joe Manchin, speaking on Fox News, shocking the White House. In a statement, the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki essentially accused Manchin of lying, saying his comments were, quote, “at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.”
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders also criticized Machin’s decision.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: He’s going to have to tell the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t want to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and eyeglasses. I’ve been to West Virginia a number of times, and it’s a great state, beautiful people. But it is a state that is struggling. And he’s going to have to tell the people of West Virginia why he’s rejecting what the scientists of the world are telling us, that we have to act boldly and transform our energy system to protect future generations from the devastation of climate change.
You know, what’s going on now, Jake, in Washington is the big money interests are pouring hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure that we continue to pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, that the rich do not start paying their fair share of taxes. And I would have hoped that we could have had at least 50 Democrats on board who had the guts to stand up for working families and take on the lobbyists and the powerful special interests.
AMY GOODMAN: Massachusetts Congressmember Ayanna Pressley appeared on CNN and condemned Manchin.
REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: This is about Joe Manchin obstructing the president’s agenda, obstructing the people’s agenda, you know, torpedoing our opportunity to advance unprecedented advancements to address the hurt that this pandemic-induced recession has caused and to get this pandemic under control.
AMY GOODMAN: Ayanna Pressley was one of six progressive Democrats in the House who voted against a separate infrastructure bill, saying it should have been coupled together with the Build Back Better plan due to their fear that only the smaller package would pass if they were voted on separately. Manchin has proved the six progressive Democrats to be correct.
We’re joined now by another of those six progressive Dems, Congressmember Jamaal Bowman of New York.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Bowman. Can you respond to who Manchin is beholden to here?
REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: He’s beholden to his donors. He’s beholden to dark money. And he’s beholden to special interests. And by “dark money,” we mean big donors that cannot be tracked or traced.
And special interests have been heavily involved in the negotiation process for Build Back Better throughout this entire year. The pharmaceutical lobby has spent more money lobbying this year than it ever has in its history — hundreds of millions of dollars. Senator Banchin has — Manchin, excuse me, has raised more money this year than he ever has in his career. So has Senator Sinema, by the way.
So we’re not talking about senators who are responding to the needs of their people. West Virginia has the seventh-highest child poverty rate in the country. West Virginia has horrible climate conditions that need to be addressed. Senator Manchin is not talking about the people of West Virginia or the people of America; he’s talking — he’s responding to big special interests and his donors.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, Congressmember Bowman, it’s often said he’s the largest recipient of oil, gas and coal money of any senator in the country. But this point you’re making about Big Pharma, on Sunday, Senator Sanders accused Manchin of not having the guts to take on pharmaceutical and other powerful special interests. Manchin has long had this close relationship with Big Pharma. His daughter, Heather Bresch, is the former president and CEO of the drug company Mylan. During her time as CEO, she drew outrage when the company raised the price of its life-saving EpiPen, used by millions to reverse fatal allergic reactions. She raised the cost of it by 400%. She later received a $31 million payout, and her company, Mylan, gave massive contributions to her father, Senator Manchin. Can you talk specifically about this? Because, in fact, Manchin on Fox talked about drug prices, even when he talked about killing the bill.
REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Yeah. We also have to consider the committees that he is affiliated with in the Senate. Yeah, his daughter increased her salary by 671%. You know, this is a senator who believes that this is OK, that this is business as usual and there’s no problem at all with his family benefiting from investments in and payments from the pharmaceutical lobby.
Unfortunately, he is not the only one. Many of my colleagues in the House and the Senate think it’s OK for big money to continue to control how Congress behaves. You know, this is capitalism. Many of my colleagues are capitalists, and they celebrate this, and they are completely OK with this. You know, they’re OK with Citizens United. They’re OK with corporations being designated as people and money being designated as free speech. This is the problem with Washington.
And as we build back better in an equitable way and work together to save our democracy, we have to look special interests and big money directly in the face and deal with it and change how we do business in Washington. We cannot have a democracy with this level of inequality and this behavior happening in Washington. We just had an insurrection on January 6th, partly because we have a system that allowed someone like Donald Trump to get to the White House in the first place. And now we have 20 million, at least, people radicalized across the country, ready to fight for, you know, their liberties and freedoms as white nationalists.
So, this is all connected and correlated, and Manchin is representative of all of that, as well as an old patriarchy that doesn’t want to support women getting back to work, particularly women of color, doesn’t want to support paid leave, doesn’t want to support universal child care and all the things that would benefit historically marginalized and disenfranchised people.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about that. You tweeted, “Wow @Sen_JoeManchin, with all due respect, when you say you’re a no on Build Back Better–is it you? Or is it the special interest [money]?” You talk about the number of noes that he is saying to the face of your community: no more child tax payments, no affordable child care, no paid leave, no immigration protections, no community violence and trauma intervention funding, no $35-a-month cap on insulin, no down payment assistance, no housing vouchers, and beyond.
And I also want to read another of the six congressmembers, the Squad plus you and Cori Bush, who voted against separating the bipartisan infrastructure bill from Build Back Better, saying this would then never pass. She said, “West Virginia is 50th in public health, 50th in childcare, 48th in employment. They support Build Back Better by a 43 point margin. This has nothing to do with [the] constituents [of Manchin]. This is about the corruption and self-interest of a coal baron,” Ilhan Omar tweeted.
Now, clearly, if 43% more — they support Build Back Better, West Virginians, by a 43-point margin. That’s what Senator Schumer is counting on when he has the senators going back home and then voting on this, just announced before we went to broadcast, anyway on the Senate floor. Talk about that decision.
REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: It’s the right decision. I am happy it’s happening. I wish they could return immediately, but, unfortunately, Senators Booker and Warren have tested positive for COVID, so we wish them well and a full and speedy recovery. But it’s absolutely the right thing to do: get Manchin on the record.
It’s one thing to talk the talk, but is he going to walk the walk and take that “no” vote and then go home and explain that “no” vote? Because at the end of the day, West Virginians are watching. And they have been watching for quite some time. But now I think they have a full understanding of who Joe Manchin is and what he represents. And my hope is that they hold him accountable for this in the next election, but also, even before we get there, engage the senator, force him to listen to his constituents and those who are struggling the most, as opposed to these lobbies that continue to support him.
Listen, we have to determine and identify who we are as a country and who we want to be. Do we want to be the country of Joe Manchin and what he represents or the country of Congresswoman Ayanna Presley and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and others who are trying to move the country forward? The country is ready to move forward, not just after Trump but in terms of levels of inequality and things that have persisted. And Manchin needs to get on board, and the majority of the country is already there.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how is it that just the six of you understood that this could happen? I mean, you even had the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna and others voting for the infrastructure bipartisan one, saying this will follow. They know Joe Manchin. What happened? Even the White House was clearly caught off guard here.
REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: You know, it’s interesting, because on that day we were ready, all of us. The entire caucus was ready to vote for both bills together and pass both bills through the House. In the 11th hour, six of my colleagues pivoted and asked for a CBO score, which didn’t make any sense because we already knew the legislation was fully paid for. And once those six pivoted, it devastated the entire caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Progressive Caucus. We all were completely devastated. And the CPC was debating what we were going to do. And the president called us, and he made a passionate plea for us to vote yes on this particular bill. And he all but promised that he would be able to deliver Manchin. And as we can see, that has not happened.
And for us — you know, I don’t want to speak for the other five, but, for myself, I just wanted to keep my word to the district. We had said for months we were going to support both bills passing together. So, for me to then pivot and not do that would have been a slap in the face to my district, particularly those who have been marginalized for decades, those who live in public housing, can’t afford child care and already that deal with climate change. And we knew that Manchin — we felt very strongly that Manchin would not support BBB, looking at the money that has come in to kill BBB throughout the year.
AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about the fight for voting rights. The family of Dr. Martin Luther King is calling for no celebration of MLK Day this year unless voting rights legislation is passed. And with Manchin trying to doom Build Back Better, a lot of people are saying Biden deprioritized the whole issue of the voting rights bills before Congress in order to push Build Back Better, and now both are failing. Your response?
REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Well, part of my frustration is Biden spent a lot of political capital on the bipartisan infrastructure framework, even more so than BBB. That has passed. We passed the For the People Act out of the House back in March and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act a few months later. It has been in the Senate for several months, and the Senate should have been working on this bill throughout the year. So, for us to end 2021 without getting voting rights done is completely unacceptable.
And it’s not just voting rights, by the way. Immigration reform, commonsense gun reform, the Women’s Health Protection Act, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and many other signature bills that America has demanded become law are sitting in the Senate gathering dust. And why? Because there’s a few senators and a few lobbies who do not support these bills. And again, unacceptable. We have to get voting rights done, we have to get BBB done, because both are central to saving our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Senate parliamentarian rejected Democrats’ third bid to include immigration reform in the Build Back Better bill. The proposal included granting work permits and deportation protections to millions of people. The news prompted a swift response from immigrant justice advocates and Democratic lawmakers. You, in particular, tweeted, “The parliamentarian is not an elected official. Their guidance is advisory not law. The republicans have fired the parliamentarian to pass their tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats must overrule the parliamentarian to pass immigration reform.” Can you speak further about this?
REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Well, absolutely right. And this also goes back to Senator Manchin, because, yes, we absolutely should overrule the parliamentarian. They are not an elected official. They are in an advisory role. We can take that advice and make the decision that’s best for the American people. The problem is — the question is: Will we get 50 votes? Because Senator Manchin has said on the record that he doesn’t want to go outside or around the parliamentarian. He’s also said he doesn’t want to — he hasn’t committed to going around the filibuster to get voting rights done. So, again, the entire country is held up by a single individual and everything that he represents.
We have to get immigration reform done. I mean, our immigrants are the engine of our country. They were the essential workers that kept us afloat throughout this pandemic. They work. They pay taxes. They follow the law. They go to school. And they make our country rich and vibrant and thriving. And for us to not create a pathway for them was unacceptable. But for us to not even get the parole done is heartbreaking. And we’ve got to figure out how to have some form of immigration reform be a part of the Build Back Better Act.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressmember Bowman, before we end, I wanted to ask you about your vote in September to approve the additional $1 billion in Iron Dome funding for the Israeli military. This created a controversy within the Democratic Socialists of America, which endorsed you last year. A number of DSA chapters called for you to be expelled from the national organization. Your response?
REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Well, you know, I’ve been working with DSA since then to build a better working relationship and get a better understanding how we can work together to move our progressive agenda forward. I’ve been working with local and national DSA to make that happen. I’m thankful that local and national DSA has been supportive.
To the other segments of DSA, you know, before commenting publicly on social media, reach out to our office. Let’s have a conversation, and let’s figure out how to work together, as opposed to just making comments on social media. That doesn’t get the movement going in the direction that we want it to go. We have to build a strong coalition on the left, strong coalition of progressives, working towards common goals with a strategic plan. That’s what I’m open to doing. And hopefully those other segments of DSA are open to doing the same thing, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congressmember Jamaal Bowman represents the 16th Congressional District in New York. He’s a former Bronx middle school principal.
Coming up, we speak to immigrants’ rights leader Jean Montrevil. He’s just been given three years of protection from deportation as part of an unusual settlement with the U.S. government. He was deported to Haiti in 2018 but allowed to return to his family in New York in October. Stay with us.