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The Other Joe: How Manchin Gets in Biden’s Way and Anger Democrats | Joe Manchin

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Joe Biden calls him “Jo-Jo,” an affectionate nickname for the West Virginia senator, who was the Joe who held all the cards at critical moments during his presidency.

And this week, Joe Manchin, a lone Democrat in the coal state who has repeatedly stood in the way of the president’s most ambitious legislative ambitions, has derailed weeks of negotiations in pursuit of a deal on a scaled-down version of Biden’s economic agenda that will support his support. would win.

With control of Congress on the line, Democrats hoped to reach an agreement by the end of the month that would fulfill their campaign promises to fight global warming and expand the social safety net, giving lawmakers a legislative achievement to campaign in the fall. But Manchin’s latest move pretty much left the Democrats’ greatest ambitions unfulfilled.

“Rage Keeps Me From Tears,” Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and sponsor of the Green New Deal, wrote on Twitter late Thursday, when news broke of Manchin’s opposition. “Solving saves me from despair.”

In a private discussion on Thursday, Manchin told Democratic leaders he could not support a bill that includes new spending to fight climate change or increases taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.

He had clarified his position Friday morning. It was “unwise” for Democrats to approve a large spending package while Americans faced painfully high costs for food, fuel and rent, the 74-year-old said in a radio interview.

“Inflation is wreaking havoc on everyone’s lives,” Manchin told host, Hoppy Kercheval.

But he issued an ultimatum: Democrats can accept a tight deal now or try to approve a bigger plan later, if the economic forecast improves.

With his economic agenda in jeopardy, Biden urged Democrats in Congress to immediately accept what they could do to lower health care costs and vowed to act unilaterally against the climate crisis.

The demands came at an unfavorable time for party leaders: Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, who has led the fragile talks with Manchin, is quarantined at home in Brooklyn after a Covid diagnosis as Biden goes on a high-risk journey. deployment was to the Middle East. The president outlined his preferred route in a statement sent after holding a controversial meeting with Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with rising fuel prices and oil production at the top of the agenda.

Joe Biden will attend a virtual meeting with leaders of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) in Washington DC in June.
Joe Biden will attend a virtual meeting with leaders of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) in Washington DC in June. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA

“Let me be clear: If the Senate does not act to address the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to address this moment,” he said.

In fact, it was an admission that, after more than a year of arduous negotiations, Manchin could not be moved, not by activists, not by his colleagues, not even by the President of the United States.

“At some point, you have to take the man at his word that he’s not going to do what he says he’s not going to do,” said Christopher Regan, a former vice chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party who worked with Manchin.


In a Senate evenly split between the parties, any Democrat can play King or Queenmaker. But no one has done that more boldly or more often than Manchin.

Tax-conscious and socially conservative, Manchin is blatantly out of step with the current Democratic party — and he knows it. At one point, he even offered to leave the Democratic party if his colleagues thought he would become too much of a “disgrace” — an offer they said they had flatly rejected.

Manchin comes from a political family in West Virginia, part of a legacy of industrial-age Democrats who formed the foundation of the party. Once one of the most reliable Democratic states, West Virginia began to turn sharply against the party as the party lost support from working-class white voters. By 2020, every county in West Virginia voted for Donald Trump.

Manchin, who began his career in state politics and served as governor, has so far defied the pendulum to the right of the state. He was elected to the Senate in 2010, two years after Biden left to become vice president, and was re-elected in 2018.

His win helped Democrats build their fragile majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris taking the 51st and decisive vote.

It was not easy to reach consensus. Manchin’s vote was critical to the approval of Biden’s judicial nominees, and he eventually signed the president’s massive Covid relief bill over unanimous Republican opposition.

But Manchin has joined Republicans in jeopardizing some of Biden’s nominations, including Neera Tanden, who has tapped the president to head the Office of Management and Budget, and Sarah Bloom Raskin, who he chose to join. to serve the Federal Reserve. Neither was confirmed.

Joe Manchin.
“What he makes clear time and again is that he can’t close the deal and you can’t rely on what he says,” Pramila Jayapal said. Photo: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Manchin is also a staunch defender of the filibuster, a Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance legislation, which he insists encourage consensus in a deeply tribal chamber. Even as Republicans tested that view by obstructing a voting rights bill he drafted as a compromise solution to the matter, Manchin, accompanied by Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, remained steadfast.

It’s a position that puts Democrats at odds with Biden, a recognized institution that has nevertheless agreed to change filibuster rules to pass voting rights and abortion protections.

In recent weeks, Biden has repeatedly referred to their opposition, telling Democrats that “we need two more senators” to break the current deadlock that has paralyzed much of his agenda.


Nothing has angered Democrats more than Manchin’s opposition to Biden’s economic agenda.

Known as Build Back Better, it started with New Deal-sized ambitions that, even at their narrowest, would still have dramatically expanded the social safety net and invested in critical efforts to lower carbon emissions.

After months of frantic readjustments and legislative changes to meet Manchin’s demands, the senator abruptly drove a stake through the heart of the Democrats’ plan. In the eyes of his colleagues, he made his decision even worse during an interview on Fox News. The reveal was so unexpected that it startled the host, Bret Baier, who asked for clarification: “Are you ready? Is this a no?”

He was ready.

Talks about a stripped-down version of the bill began quietly earlier this year. Democratic leaders and the White House tried to keep expectations low, even as the party’s demoralized supporters demanded action. Manchin says it is open to a plan that would cut the cost of prescription drugs and extend the subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, which expire at the end of the year.

Manchin’s approach has infuriated Democrats, particularly progressives who believe he negotiated in bad faith and sparked hopes before hitting the ground running when a deal seems within reach.

“What he makes clear time and again is that he can’t close the deal and you can’t rely on what he says,” Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said. told reporters on Friday.

Manchin, apparently impervious to liberal pressure, claims it is he who has been consistent from the start, expressing concerns about rising inflation even when the president falsely claimed it would be “transient”. New June data showing prices rose an astonishing 9.1% over the past 12 months led Manchin to apparently roll back the tax and climate provisions of the Democrats’ plan. In a statement, Manchin warned that new spending proposals could fuel inflation, which he called a “clear and current danger to our economy.”

Activists in West Virginia and Washington have tried to persuade him with protests, sit-ins and ad campaigns. Once, a group of climate advocates in kayaks held signs that read “don’t sink our bill” during a “flotilla” protest outside his houseboat, Almost Heaven, where he lives when he’s in Washington. Even Senator Bernie Sanders weighed in, with an op-ed in a West Virginia newspaper that sparked Manchin’s anger.

The West Virginian has always claimed to vote in the interest of his state, historically poor and hurt by the decline of the coal industry.

People protest Manchin in West Virginia in April.
People protest Manchin in West Virginia in April. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

But critics are skeptical, especially when it comes to his stance on climate legislation. Manchin is the main recipient of campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry in the Senate and has made millions from his family’s coal company.

“Senators have told me and others that negotiating with Joe Manchin is like negotiating with an Etch-a-Sketch,” said Norm Ornstein, a scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, said of Manchin’s opposition. “It appears to be a coal-powered Etch-a-Sketch.”

In Friday’s radio interview, Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he might be interested in taking additional action against the climate crisis if inflation starts to ease this summer.

Whether Manchin and Biden can reach an agreement on the president’s top legislative priority ahead of the November election is likely to have profound implications for their party, but potentially for the senator’s own political future.

“There are no friends for” [Manchin] after that,” said Regan, who worked in Democratic politics in West Virginia. “He has completely alienated the Democratic Party that has always supported him and he is nowhere near right-wing enough for the West Virginia Republican Party.”


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