Democrats from the White House on down are largely looking the other way as far-left activists wage a campaign of intimidation and harassment against two moderate Democratic senators who oppose President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social welfare bill.
The harassment of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia by liberal activists “just proves that the nasty side of the aisle is from the radical left,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican.
“I certainly hope that Sen. Sinema and Sen. Manchin realize that they’re on the side of the aisle [where] this is what happens when you buck the radical leftists in their party,” Mr. Johnson said Tuesday on Newsmax. “I hope this steels their resolve.”
Amy Kremer, a supporter of former President Donald Trump and the chair of Women for America First, called the intimidation tactics “outrageous.” She said on Twitter of the activists, “Who is paying them?”
The answer, in part, is George Soros. The liberal billionaire has helped fund several advocacy groups whose members have confronted the two senators for hindering the passage of Mr. Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending bill.
With his efforts in Congress stymied, Mr. Biden traveled to Michigan on Tuesday to rally support for his agenda. He said opponents of his plan are “complicit in America’s decline.”
Negotiators appeared to be moving closer to an agreement on a top-line spending figure that could help resolve the impasse. Liberals told Mr. Biden that they would be willing to come down to $2.5 trillion in their demands. Mr. Manchin didn’t rule out a spending range of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion.
But Mr. Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, are walking a tightrope on the intimidation of lawmakers by their party’s grassroots. The president lamented publicly this week that the two holdout Democrats were blocking his agenda.
Mr. Biden downplayed the harassment of Ms. Sinema, calling it “part of the process.”
“I don’t think they’re appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody,” the president said.
Also as part of the “process,” activists protested at Mr. Manchin’s houseboat in Washington last week. The protesters, who blockaded Mr. Manchin’s vessel with kayaks and pontoon boats, demanded that he drop his objections to the $3.5 trillion spending package.
“We’re working hard. We really are,” Mr. Manchin told the activists, to no avail. “We’re going to continue to in good faith. I really want to get a good bill that’s a balanced bill, that’s well done. And I know it won’t be enough for some. It will be too much for others in West Virginia.”
Mr. Schumer has denounced the tactics but acknowledged he has sympathy for the angry activists.
“I strongly support the right to peaceful protest. I started my career protesting the Vietnam War, and I get protested all the time,” Mr. Schumer said. “And I understand, and so feel for the immigrant community and what they’re going through, but following someone into a bathroom and recording them, that’s over the line.”
The calculation is mainly political. Senior Democrats do not want to be seen as supporting disorder and harassment. At the same time, they must contend with the fact that the activists are fighting for Mr. Biden’s agenda.
That reality has Democrats struggling to respond, especially after Ms. Sinema was confronted twice by activists over the weekend. In one of the incidents, members of a far-left immigrant rights group recorded themselves berating Ms. Sinema inside a public restroom at Arizona State University, where the lawmaker teaches.
Ms. Sinema said the harassment was not just an illegitimate protest, but also potentially illegal. In Arizona, it is against the law to photograph or videotape individuals within a bathroom where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
“It is unacceptable for activist organizations to instruct their members to jeopardize themselves by engaging in unlawful activities such as gaining entry to closed university buildings, disrupting learning environments, and filming students in a restroom,” she wrote.
Ms. Sinema also was harassed by an activist while on a flight.
Republican lawmakers have denounced the unwillingness of Democrats to stand up to the “far left.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, said on Twitter, “I’ve spent countless hours working alongside Kyrsten Sinema. She is smart, hardworking and principled. We don’t always see eye to eye, but I respect her. The harassment she has endured is inexcusable and disheartening. It reflects so poorly on the bullies and abusers.”
The incidents underscore the intraparty feuding among Democrats over Mr. Biden’s $3.5 trillion social welfare package.
Dubbed “human infrastructure,” the bill amounts to a wish list of liberal priorities such as proposals for climate change, tuition-free community college and expanded health care programs.
Democratic leaders say the $3.5 trillion package complements the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which focuses on roads, bridges, railways and airports.
Since the social spending package has drawn nearly universal Republican opposition, Democrats plan to pass it via a special process known as budget reconciliation. The process allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes.
Because the Senate is evenly split between the parties, every Democrat needs to be on board for the reconciliation package to succeed. Moderate Democrats, including Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema, have called for trimming and means-testing the bill.
“I have been consistent in my belief that any expansion of social programs must be targeted to those in need, not expanded beyond what is fiscally possible,” Mr. Manchin said.
Liberals say means-testing programs providing for free community college, expanded child care and more robust health care services — including expanded dental, vision and hearing coverage for Medicare — is a “red line.”
“Voters gave Democrats the House, the Senate and the White House — a clear mandate for transformational change,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Progressives are fighting to deliver for them and working people across America.”