by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has found himself in the hot seat after announcing he wouldn’t support Build Back Better, President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate and social spending bill.
His colleagues in the Senate said he didn’t have “the courage to do the right thing,” and members of the House called the rationale for his vote “a farce.” News outlets reported on Manchin’s “betrayal” and questioned his status as a moderate. Some reporters leapt to Twitter to cry out that Manchin’s decision was “objectively devastating” for the planet.
But it wasn’t so long ago that a senator bucking his party and his president was greeted by the press in a much different way. Former senator John McCain of Arizona cast perhaps his most famous vote in 2017, torpedoing the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare. This was an effort the GOP had made the centerpiece of its 2016 election strategy, and McCain’s thumbs-down was a deliberate middle finger to his own party.
McCain was greeted as a hero, a “maverick” who had “put country before party” for supposedly ending the repeal efforts that would continue on. Manchin’s decision has been framed as a temporary roadblock and a self-interested betrayal.
Looking at the headlines side-by-side makes the difference in coverage clear.
The Washington Post was thrilled that McCain “killed the GOP’s health care fight.” Build Back Better, despite Manchin’s resounding no, hasn’t been killed at all. It just has some stuff that Manchin “doesn’t like.”
To the New York Times, McCain’s vote against Obamacare repeal was “decisive.” But Manchin’s announcement that he won’t support Build Back Better has the Times looking for “a new way forward” for the legislation.