Democrats have no appetite to punish Joe Manchin

Angry Senate Democrats have to decide what to do about Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) after he blew up President Biden’s tax reform and climate agenda last week, prompting calls for the maverick senator to lose his committee chairmanship and get kicked out of the party. 

Democratic senators are under pressure to punish Manchin after he torpedoed two of Biden’s biggest campaign promises: to reform the tax code and pass sweeping legislation to combat global climate change.  

Yet lawmakers are reluctant to retaliate against their colleague because they still need his vote to pass a scaled-down budget reconciliation bill that would lower prescription drug prices and extend subsidies for Affordable Care Act health insurance plans.

There’s the looming threat that Manchin could leave the Democratic Party and caucus as an Independent with Republicans, which would put Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in control.

Democrats also hope that Manchin will run for reelection in 2024 in a state that former President Trump carried with 69 percent of the vote and would surely elect a Republican if he retires. 

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Monday rejected talk of taking away Manchin’s chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, telling reporters that Democrats shouldn’t risk their majority by “purging our ranks.”

But Durbin also criticized Manchin for stringing out the climate and tax talks for months.

“My major frustration is I think Joe should have made his position a hell of a long time ago,” he said.

Manchin in March proposed a slimmed-down budget reconciliation bill that he suggested could include prescription drug and tax reform. He proposed using revenues to pay for climate provisions and to reduce the deficit.

But Manchin last week walked away from tax reform and climate spending after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that inflation climbed to 9.1 percent in June.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had insisted his talks with Manchin were making good progress, declined to comment on the devastating blow to Biden’s agenda.

“No reaction,” he said Monday when asked for comment.

Other Democrats voiced extreme disappointment and frustration.

“This is why I am just really focused on getting at least two more Democratic senators elected,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), referring to the number of Senate seats Democrats would need to pick up in the November election to offset the votes of Manchin and centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Both centrists threw up obstacles to Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and oppose changing the Senate’s filibuster rule.

“I’m very, very disappointed, of course,” Hirono said.

If the Senate Democratic Caucus can add a net two members in the midterm elections to offset Manchin’s and Sinema’s votes, “we can get rid of the filibuster and get some legislation passed that will help people,” she said.

Democratic senators acknowledged for months they had little leverage over Manchin in a 50-50 Senate, especially after they made the fateful decision to separate infrastructure spending from Biden’s social and climate spending goals.

Last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Manchin helped negotiate, sent $6 billion in new investment to his home state.

Months of building frustration boiled over after Manchin backed away from his past support for closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and making significant new investments in renewable energy technology.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) on Friday asked whether Manchin should continue to chair the Energy and Natural Resources panel, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accused him of “intentionally sabotaging” Biden’s agenda, and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich suggested kicking him out of the party altogether.

John Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff and senior counselor to former President Obama, proclaimed Manchin “single handedly doomed humanity” by upending Biden’s climate goals.

But those calls for punishment aren’t getting any traction in the Senate.

Schumer on Monday said he had no comment on Heinrich’s suggestion that Manchin shouldn’t be allowed to keep his chairman’s gavel.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she didn’t have any comment on whether Manchin should remain chairman of the committee.

But she acknowledged “it’s disappointing to not be able to make more progress on things that a lot of people agree on.”

She said she’s now more focused on trying to pass a bill to provide $52 billion to the domestic semiconductor manufacturing industry, legislation that is scheduled to come to the floor on Tuesday.

Other Democrats are trying to make the best of a bad situation by urging Biden to use his executive power to address the climate.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tweeted that “the executive branch has lots of tools at its disposal” and called on the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to push the auto industry to manufacture 100 percent zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

And some Democrats are consoling themselves by noting that the Trump-era tax cuts are due to expire in 2025. 

Hirono pointed out that while Manchin is giving fellow Democratic senators heartburn, he’s still a critical vote in the Senate.

She noted that if Republicans had one more vote in 2017, they would have successfully repealed the Affordable Care Act, which was a top GOP priority after Trump won the 2016 election.

Manchin on Monday brushed off the criticism from Democratic colleagues, telling a reporter for CNN, “I understand their frustration and concern.” 

But Manchin said that “it’s a democracy, I come from another state,” and reiterated his support for protecting the role of fossil fuels in the U.S. economy.

Tags Biden climate bill Democrats Dick Durbin Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Maria Cantwell Senate Tax reform
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