Democrats slim down ambitions after back-to-back failures

Nonetheless, the party’s more modest approach was on display Thursday afternoon as the Senate headed home for a recess after Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) joined Republicans to block a rules change that could have allowed elections legislation to pass by a simple majority. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set up votes for next month on a large tranche of nominees, which Democrats can confirm easily without GOP support.

Schumer has vowed that Biden’s spending bill will come to the Senate floor at some point and his razor-thin majority will work on it until it passes with Manchin’s approval. The problem is that Democrats are starting from square one with Manchin, who said his previous negotiations with Biden are now void.

“What Build Back Better? I mean, at this point Sen. Manchin needs to sit down and get clarity about what’s got 50 votes,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close to Biden. Asked about Sanders’ idea to switch strategies, Coons replied: “Good for him.”

Democrats haven’t coalesced around a specific list of goals moving forward, and Schumer hasn’t indicated what legislation he’ll pursue next. But despite his pursuit of partisan priorities, last year he was able to cut deals with Republicans on infrastructure, competitiveness legislation and a hate crimes bill last year — and he still talks up finding compromise where he can.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who serves on Schumer’s leadership team, said “there’s going to be a lot of discussion about where people want to go.”

But with the Feb. 18 government funding deadline looming, several senators said Democrats’ focus will turn to appropriations and reaching a sweeping spending deal that could include disaster and pandemic aid. Congress has been operating on stopgap funding patches since Oct. 1, and the upper chamber’s two appropriations leaders are retiring.

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