New York: As Americans anxiously await Covid-19 relief payments from the Joe Biden government, an off-message TV interview by Vice President Kamala Harris is backfiring big time on the White House trying to push an ambitious $1.9 trillion pandemic relief through Congress.
Harris’ interview has angered a moderate Democrat crucial to closure of the proposed relief; he blasted Harris after she framed the relief package as a “big issue” for West Virginia, a key state in an evenly divided 50-50 Senate. Democrats annoyed with Harris are describing her performance as “ham handed”.
Harris was responding to a question from a WSAZ TV host who asked when Americans can expect relief cheques to land. Harris said, “To your point in West Virginia, one in seven families is describing their household as being hungry, one in six can’t pay their rent, and one in four small businesses are closing permanently or have already closed, so it’s a big issue in West Virginia and across the country,” Harris said. “And that’s why the president and I are offering the American Rescue Plan.”
“I saw the interview; I couldn’t believe it. No one called me about it,” West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin said. “We’re going to try to find a bipartisan pathway forward, but we need to work together. That’s not a way of working together.” For weeks, Manchin has made it clear that people making $300,000 should not be getting stimulus checks, the overall price tag should be lower and that the deal should be bipartisan.
For the Covid-19 economic package to get through the door, Biden and Harris need Manchin to play ball; Harris’ interview didn’t seem to factor that in.
With the Senate on a 50-50 razor’s edge and Harris in tie breaker role, disgruntled Senators have the power to make or break the pandemic relief bill’s passage when millions of Americans are waiting for politicians to deliver $1,400 in direct payments instead of weeks of just talk.
“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it. But the COVID relief has to pass – no ifs, ands or buts,” Biden said on Friday. Democrats are planning to take steps to pass the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill without Republican help. Even then, it needs 51 votes in the Senate. A single Democrat angered by a “president and I are offering the American Rescue Plan” soundbite has the leverage to blow it all up.
By Nikhila Natarajan