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Democrats struggle trying to ‘build back’ after Manchin tanks $2 trln bill

Democrats are struggling to pick up the pieces after Sen. Joe Manchin effectively crushed President Joe Biden’s big domestic policy bill. But they face serious questions whether the $2 trillion initiative can be refashioned to win his crucial vote or the party will be saddled with a devastating defeat.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed on Monday that the chamber would vote early in the new year on Biden’s “Build Back Better Act” as it now stands so every senator “has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.” That was a biting reference to Manchin’s sudden TV announcement against the bill on Sunday.

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Biden and Manchin spoke later Sunday, according to a person familiar with the call, first reported by Politico. It was cordial and respectful, said the person who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

But the conservative West Virginia Democrat and his party are so far apart, his relationships so bruised after months of failed talks, it’s unclear how they even get back to the negotiating table, let alone revive the sprawling more than 2,100-page social services and climate change bill.

“We’re going to work like hell to get it done,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, repeating the phrase several times at a briefing but never saying how.

The setback throws Biden’s signature legislative effort into deep doubt at a critical time, closing out the end of the president’s first year and ahead of congressional midterm elections when the Democrats’ slim hold on Congress. is at risk.

Coupled with solid Republican opposition, Manchin’s vote is vital in the 50-50 split Senate on this and other initiatives, including the Democrats’ priority voting rights legislation that Schumer also promised would come to an early vote.

From the White House, Psaki struck a more conciliatory tone than her weekend hardball reaction to Manchin, saying Biden is a “longtime friend” of the senator and the president is focused on moving forward.

Vice President Kamala Harris told CBS News “the stakes are too high” for this to be about “any specific individual.” She said, “This is about let’s get the job done.”

Steeped in the politics of a state that Biden lost decisively to Donald Trump, Manchin has little to gain from aligning too closely with fellow Democrats, raising fresh questions over whether he still has a place in the party.
In a radio interview on Monday, he reiterated his position that the social and environment bill has far too much government spending — on child care, health care and other programs — without enough restrictions on incomes or work requirements.

But the lifelong Democrat was less clear when asked if the party still has room for him — describing himself as “fiscally responsible and socially compassionate.”
Manchin said: “Now, if there’s no Democrats like that then they have to push me wherever they want.”

After months of negotiations with the White House and Senate staff members as well as Biden and fellow senators, he lashed out at hardline tactics against him by those he said “just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive.”

The next steps remain highly uncertain for the president and his party.

Biden returned to Washington from his Delaware home and lawmakers assessed their options with Congress on recess for the holiday break. The president’s reputation as a seasoned legislator who wants to show the country government can work hangs in the balance along with his proposals.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Democrat-Washington, a leader of the progressive caucus, spoke with Manchin early Monday, but emerged warning her colleagues the senator was an untrustworthy partner who “went back on his word.”

Jayapal said Democrats were working with the White House on alternative means of reaching the bill’s goals through executive or administrative actions, without legislation.

“We cannot make the same mistakes twice,” she said on a conference call with other progressives. “We cannot hang the futures of millions of Americans on the words of one man.”

The White House appeared to take interest in Manchin’s preference for a reimagined bill that would tackle a few top priorities, for longer duration, rather than the multifaceted and far-reaching House-passed version.

But it will be extraordinarily difficult for progressive and centrist Democrats to rebuild trust to launch a fresh round of negotiations having devoted much of Biden’s first year in office to what is now essentially a collapsed effort.
For example, Manchin wants to authorize the social programs for the full 10 years of a standard budget window — rather than just a few years as Democrats would as a way to keep the price tag down. That change would force painful cuts elsewhere in the package.

Despite Biden’s long courtship of Manchin, the senator has been clear throughout that the Democrats’ bill does not fit his vision of what the country needs, even though many residents in his state are low income, some in desperate need of the health, education and child care services the bill would provide.

The sweeping package is among the biggest of its kind ever considered in Congress, unleashing billions of dollars to help American families nationwide — nearly all paid for with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
For families with children, it would provide free pre-school and child care aid. There are subsidies for health insurance premiums, lower prescription drug costs and expanded Medicaid access in states that do not yet provide it. The bill would start a new hearing aid program for seniors. And it includes more than $500 billion to curb carbon emissions, a figure considered the largest federal expenditure ever to combat climate change.

A potential new deadline for Biden and his party comes with the expiration of an expanded child tax credit that has been sending up to $300 monthly directly to millions of families’ bank accounts. If Congress fails to act, the money won’t arrive in January.

Talks between Biden and Manchin deteriorated during a final round last week that turned heated, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private talks.

In a stunning repudiation of his party, Manchin gave the president’s staff just a 20-minute heads-up he was about to announce his opposition to the bill.

It called to mind the famous thumbs-down vote by Sen. John McCain, Republican-Arizona, that killed Trump’s 2017 effort to repeal the health care law enacted under President Barack Obama.

Republicans hailed Manchin as a maverick, but Democrats and the White House were merciless in their criticism.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck an optimistic chord at an event in her San Francisco district. “This will happen,” she said. “I’m not deterred at all.”

Read more: With Biden in White House, Pelosi looks to push through spending, coronavirus bills

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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