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Joe Manchin Defends Retreat on Climate and Tax Plans


WASHINGTON — It was a well-known, if excruciating, position for Democrats.

A day after pulling the plug on his party’s plans to pass a climate, energy and tax package this summer, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the conservative-leaning Democrat who has repeatedly flirted with compromise only to scuttle his party’s highest ambitions, called in on Friday to a West Virginia radio show. Perhaps, he suggested, in one other month or so, he might see his way clear to salvaging the last bits of President Biden’s domestic agenda.

There was no guarantee, after all, and the comments were only the newest instance of Mr. Manchin capitalizing on his role as a swing vote in an evenly divided Senate to dictate his party’s legislative strategy, leaving Democrats at his mercy.

This time, Democrats had had enough.

Somewhat than engage in one other round of will-he-or-won’t-he negotiations with Mr. Manchin, Mr. Biden let it’s known that he was done attempting to secure his climate agenda in Congress.

Mr. Manchin’s abrupt withdrawal left Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of Latest York and the bulk leader, jilted after months of courting a colleague whose demands and red lines looked as if it would shift by the day, or the newest economic projection. And it prodded many Democrats into open revolt against Mr. Manchin, blaming him for the demise of their ambitions and the last likelihood for his or her party to tackle the existential threat of climate change.

Mr. Manchin, said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, “has shown that he doesn’t know the right way to close a deal — or he doesn’t need to close a deal — and that you may’t trust him.”

For greater than a 12 months, Mr. Manchin, who at 74 is serving his third term within the Senate, has been situated exactly where he prefers to be: at the middle of a high-stakes political and policy negotiation, with attention and speculation focused on him.

Democrats have toiled to win his vote on any piece of their once-ambitious domestic agenda, tailoring their policy moves in order to not alienate him. They’ve contorted themselves to suit his often-changing dictates and have scaled back their ambitions repeatedly to remain inside his red lines, but they’ve up to now come away empty-handed on their biggest priorities.

Due to Democrats’ razor-thin margin of control within the 50-50 Senate and unified Republican opposition to most of their agenda, Mr. Manchin has effective veto power over the party’s legislative strategy — and has exercised it often and unapologetically.

But while Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats have pushed for transformative policies to confront generational challenges equivalent to climate change, Mr. Manchin, who channels the desires of his very conservative, coal-and-gas-producing state, has focused on nearer-term issues.

On Friday, he said he had told party leaders he desired to wait one other month — until inflation numbers for July were released — before he could settle on whether to act on climate change.

Understand What Happened to Biden’s Domestic Agenda

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‘Construct Back Higher.’ Before being elected president in 2020, Joseph R. Biden Jr. articulated his ambitious vision for his administration under the slogan “Construct Back Higher,” promising to take a position in clean energy and to be certain that procurement spending went toward American-made products.

A two-part agenda. March and April 2021: President Biden unveiled two plans that together formed the core of his domestic agenda: the American Jobs Plan, focused on infrastructure, and the American Families Plan, which included a wide range of social policy initiatives.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Nov. 15, 2021: President Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law, the results of months of negotiations. The president hailed the package, a pared-back version of what had been outlined within the American Jobs Plan, as evidence that U.S. lawmakers could still work across party lines.

“I’m where I actually have been — I’d not put my staff through this, I’d not put myself through this if I wasn’t sincere about trying to seek out a pathway forward to do something that’s good for our country,” Mr. Manchin said on Friday in the interview with the radio host Hoppy Kercheval. “They can’t come to grips because I actually have a ‘D’ by my name or someone has an ‘R’ by their name, we must always do whatever one side wants. That’s not me.”

Mr. Biden made no mention of Mr. Manchin in an announcement issued on Friday. Asked at a news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, whether the West Virginian had been negotiating in good faith, the president demurred, saying he was not the one who had been negotiating with him.

But indignant congressional Democrats pinned their frustration on the West Virginia Democrat. One, Senator Martin Heinrich of Latest Mexico, mused publicly about whether Mr. Manchin deserved his chairmanship of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“It’s been a very, really terrible day,” Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota and a key champion of the climate provisions, said in an interview. “If Senator Manchin wants a deal on climate and energy, he can have one in a heartbeat. That is Senator Manchin’s deal for the taking, and if it doesn’t occur, it’s on him.”

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn — the one national Democrat from his ruby-red state — and acts and votes accordingly. Set to face voters in 2024, he’s unlikely to be threatened by a primary challenger in a state former President Donald J. Trump won by nearly 40 points in 2020.

That has given Mr. Manchin leverage to perform his own policy goals — including holding firm against moving entirely away from oil and gas — and resist what he considers his party’s lurch toward its liberal base. He appears happiest when he’s in the course of a consequential policy negotiation; he has been wined and dined as a vital participant in bipartisan talks, invited to Mr. Biden’s Wilmington home for breakfast and pursued by the White House officials, lawmakers, aides and reporters who dissect his every syllable for a kernel of insight.

However the murkiness, and at times inconsistency, of Mr. Manchin’s positions has increasingly grated on his Democratic colleagues.

Barely three months into the Biden administration, he prompted the longest open vote in modern Senate history by raising a last-minute objection to the dimensions of unemployment advantages within the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid plan. Democrats needed to slash the jobless payments to win his vote, which cemented passage of the package.

He refused to assist Democrats change filibuster rules to enact voting rights laws, killing the hassle even after Mr. Schumer gave him the lead role in writing an alternate bill to make sure he would support it.

But on no issue has Mr. Manchin bedeviled Democrats greater than on their ambitious social safety net, climate and tax package. To win his vote to start work on the plan, Mr. Schumer signed on to a secret memo with Mr. Manchin that made clear that the West Virginian had no intention of accepting the $3.5 trillion in spending envisioned in Democrats’ budget. The document outlined Mr. Manchin’s much narrower parameters for a $1.5 trillion package, including income thresholds for social programs and accommodations for fossil fuel tax credits and natural gas.

“I’ll attempt to dissuade Joe on a lot of these,” Mr. Schumer scrawled on the document, which enraged many Democrats when it became public. He never could. Six months later, Mr. Manchin abruptly walked away from talks on the package.

Democrats regrouped in January and started efforts to rebuild their shattered plan, adhering strictly to the components Mr. Manchin had repeatedly laid out: paying down the national debt, overhauling parts of the tax code and lowering the price of pharmaceuticals by allowing Medicare to barter prices and a few spending.

By early this month, Senate Democrats had begun rolling out pieces of a package they believed could win Mr. Manchin’s support, including a drug pricing proposal and a plan to shore up the solvency of a key Medicare program by increasing taxes for some high-earning Americans.

But by Thursday evening, after news that prices had surged 9.1 percent within the 12 months ending in June, Mr. Manchin balked again, telling Mr. Schumer that he desired to wait on any climate or tax proposals until seeing inflation figures for July. Should Democrats insist on pushing forward with legislative motion before then, Mr. Manchin said, they need to act only on proposals aimed toward lowering the price of pharmaceuticals and increasing expanded Inexpensive Care Act subsidies.

“Let’s wait until that comes out, so we all know that we’re taking place the trail it won’t be inflammatory, so as to add more to inflation,” Mr. Manchin said within the radio interview. Recounting Mr. Schumer’s response, Mr. Manchin added: “I said, ‘Chuck, it’s flawed. It’s not prudent to do the opposite straight away.’”

“I need climate. I need an energy policy,” he said, adding, “I believed we were moving truly in the appropriate direction.”

But Mr. Schumer appeared to have grown exasperated and convinced that Mr. Manchin’s vote was not obtainable. One official said that Mr. Manchin had rebuffed major concessions that may have enraged progressive Democrats, including adding more drilling measures, removing a key electric vehicle tax credit and dropping tax increases he had resisted.

Mr. Manchin’s stance effectively scuttled the probabilities of motion in the approaching days on a critical priority for Democrats and strongly suggested that unless they abandoned the climate and tax proposals altogether, they may not salvage any of their domestic policy package before the midterm congressional elections in November. In September, after a five-week planned recess, lawmakers could have only a limited window to act on the package. They usually are desirous to give themselves as much time as possible to campaign on whatever they pass before the November elections.

Bearing political scars from a 12 months of fractious talks, few Democrats on Friday seemed willing to gamble that there was a bigger deal available in September.

“I can’t get blood from a stone,” said Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat facing re-election in a competitive district. “I’m not within the Senate. They’re clearly having problems negotiating amongst themselves. And I’ll just — for my constituents — take what I can get.”

Catie Edmondson, Stephanie Lai and Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.

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