Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and served as a counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is a member of the Board of Visitors of MD Anderson Cancer Center. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN. With his announcement on "Fox News Sunday" that he will not vote for President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has handed the White House not just a lump of coal this Christmas, but an entire strip mine. The reaction was immediate and fierce. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, blasted his more conservative colleague (but, to be fair, all 99 of Sanders' colleagues are more conservative than he). Sanders told CNN's Jake Tapper that if Manchin "doesn't have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world." It appears Manchin is prepared to do just that. As a veteran of countless make-or-break moments on Capitol Hill and in the White House, I know that Biden and the Democrats have multiple paths forward.
First, I must note that this is not the biggest setback Joe Biden has faced in his life, and each time he has come back stronger. The political graveyards are filled with people who underestimated Joe Biden. Beneath the genial visage is a spine of steel. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said of his fellow Civil War veterans, Biden's heart has been "touched with fire." It will not break from this blow. Perhaps Manchin is being tactical. Perhaps there is still some version of BBB he can support. If so, his support will brand the bill as moderate -- with a capital M. Not the worst thing going into an election year in which moderate voters in swing districts will decide the outcome. If, instead, Manchin has pulled the plug on Build Back Better, Biden still has several paths to success: Piecemeal. The size and scope of BBB, which thrilled progressives, may have ultimately sunk it with Manchin. The White House website extolls the virtues of 22 different provisions in BBB. Twenty-two. Woodrow Wilson thought he could remake the world after World War I with just 14 points. And the Good Lord himself thought we could govern ourselves with 10. Biden could break BBB up into those 22 component parts and introduce them separately. Not all will pass, of course, especially since it will take 60 votes to break filibuster, while the BBB requires only 50 votes under reconciliation. Maybe none will, given some Democrats' absurd fealty to the filibuster. But you never know.