Voices: Manchin’s very public takedown of Biden is transparent

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Senator Joe Manchin unleashed his latest salvo against President Joe Biden, accusing him of perverting the original meaning of the Inflation Reduction Act.

For those who may remember, Mr Machin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brokered the Inflation Reduction Act last summer, which Mr Biden later signed with the West Virginia Democratic senator by his side.

But since then, Mr Manchin has expressed dissatisfaction with the way the administration is implementing it. He issued his latest complaint in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal editorial page on Wednesday, accusing the administration of not implementing the signature law the way he wanted it to be done.

Mr Manchin said he and Mr Biden agreed the law was supposed to raise revenue and reduce the national debt.

“Yet instead of implementing the law as intended, unelected ideologues, bureaucrats and appointees seem determined to violate and subvert the law to advance a partisan agenda that ignores both energy and fiscal security,” he wrote. Particularly, he said the administration was expanding the definition of “domestic energy” to include clean-energy spending to levels he complained would balloon the deficit.

“The president has the power, today, to direct his administration to follow the law, as well as to sit down with congressional leaders and negotiate meaningful, serious reforms to the federal budget,” Mr Manchin wrote. “Failing to do so may score political points with left-wing partisans, but generations of Americans will ultimately pay the price.”

And Mr Manchin’s screed in the Journal is just his most recent missive. In March, he published an editorial in The Houston Chronicle saying he wouldn’t support the Biden administration’s nominees. Notably, Houston is a major hub for the energy sector.

Mr Manchin, a conservative Democrat by nature who founded a coal brokerage firm, has been a pain in the neck for Democrats ever since they won the Senate majority back in Jauary 2021 when Georgia’s Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock gave them a 50-50 majority that allowed Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. Mr Manchin notably killed Build Back Better before he and Mr Schumer proposed the Inflation Reduction Act; and he continues to oppose the filibuster, a major obstacle to Democrats’ desire to pass a voting rights bill.

But John Fetterman’s election in Pennsylvania last year means that Democrats don’t need to rely on his vote as much anymore, which is probably why he told me he was “tickled to death” when Mr Warnock won the runoff race in Georgia in December; doing so means he can create distance between himself and the White House and even Mr Schumer.

And West Virginia began to spurn Democrats starting in 2000 when George W Bush became the first non-incumbent Republican in more than half a century to win the state largely in response to Mountaineers’ skepticism toward Al Gore’s environmental policies.

Since then, the state has only become more friendly to Republicans; or more importantly, more hostile to Democrats. Donald Trump won every county in the state both times he ran and he won by 30 points in 2020 largely based on his support for the coal industry.

As a result, in order for Mr Manchin to survive, he needs healthy support from Republicans and independents in the state. But his giving Democrats a major policy win decimated his support among the two groups, a Morning Consult poll found last year.

Mr Manchin barely won re-election in 2018 even after he voted to confirm many of Mr Trump’s Cabinet nominees and Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. In 2024, he faces a both literal and figurative big challenge as his former friend, Governor Jim Justice, who switched from being a Democrat to a Republican, has teased a run against Mr Manchin.

Were Mr Manchin to run, he would do so in a presidential year when a Republican who could very likely be Mr Trump will be at the top of the ticket. Senate Republicans would likely throw everything they have at him since they feel he lied to them by negotiatig with Mr Schumer in secret while signaling to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell negotiations were all but dead in order to pass the CHIPS and Science Act.

All of this to say, a Manchin victory is a herculean task.

Unlike fellow red-state Democrats Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Mr Manchin has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election (though he is in the same boat with his friend, Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, despite her disparagement of him to big-dollar donors). But his recent actions show another run isn’t out of the realm of possibility.