By David Blackmom
November 7, 2022 - It was just a few months ago when West Virginia Joe Manchin was being widely hailed as perhaps the most powerful politician in Washington, DC. This was true especially where issues related to energy policy were concerned, given his position as Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
But Manchin’s decision to become the deciding vote in favor of the mis-named Inflation Reduction Act in early August brought an end to any such talk among the chattering class. That bill gave President Joe Biden and congressional Green New Dealers pretty much everything they had desired, and the only thing Sen. Manchin received in return was a nebulous “deal” with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to pursue the passage of language designed to streamline federal energy permitting processes.
It was immediately obvious to anyone who understands how politics work in the nation’s capital that the deal Sen. Manchin had made would have little real chance at success, and I detailed the reasons why in a piece here on August 22. No one was really much surprised when Mr. Manchin gave up the ghost just a few weeks later after mounting what appeared to be only a token fight.
In any event, Sen. Manchin essentially surrendered any real political power he possessed by signing off on the IRA when he did. Now, with the prospect of the Republicans re-gaining a Senate majority in Tuesday’s mid-term elections, and Manchin’s favorability ratings plummeting in advance of having to stand for re-election in 2024, no one really expects him to regain the political relevancy he once commanded. No one now refers to Sen. Manchin as the most powerful politician in Washington, DC.
Given this background, it was almost amusing Saturday when Sen. Manchin slammed President Biden for remarks he had delivered on Friday. During a speech about the CHIPS act in San Diego, Biden said “No one is building new coal plants because they can’t rely on it, even if they have all the coal guaranteed for the rest of their existence of the plant. So it’s going to become a wind generation.”
Making matters more concerning for Manchin, whose home state still relies heavily on the coal industry, Biden then added, “We’re going to be shutting these plants down all across America and having wind and solar.” Well, yes, and that is in large part due to the hundreds of billions of dollars in new renewable energy subsidies contained in the IRA, along with all the enhanced regulatory and executive powers that bill provides to Biden and his administrative agencies.
Shutting down coal plants and basically “ending” the coal industry entirely - as Biden promised more than once during his campaign - is in fact one of the main objectives of the IRA. It is hard to believe that Sen. Manchin did not understand that reality when he cast his vote in favor of the legislation.
But saying that part out loud, in public, and coming from the President himself, presented a real political problem for Sen. Manchin, given the key and very visible role he played in ensuring the bill’s passage. Thus, on Saturday, Manchin responded with a press release.
“President Biden’s comments are not only outrageous and divorced from reality, they ignore the severe economic pain the American people are feeling because of rising energy costs,” Manchin said. “Comments like these are the reason the American people are losing trust in President Biden. … It seems his positions change daily depending on the audience and politics of the day.
“Let me be clear, this is something the President has never said to me. Being cavalier about the coal jobs for men and women in West Virginia and across the country who literally put their lives on the line to help build and power this country is offensive and disgusting,” Manchin said. “The President owes these incredible workers an immediate and public apology and it is time he learn a lesson that his words matter and have consequences.”
The White House responded within hours to Manchin’s harsh demand for an apology. But the response, issued by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, while expressing “regret,” didn’t exactly fill Manchin’s demand.
“The President’s remarks yesterday have been twisted to suggest a meaning that was not intended; he regrets it if anyone hearing these remarks took offense,” said Jean-Pierre in a statement. “The President was commenting on a fact of economics and technology: as it has been from its earliest days as an energy superpower, America is once again in the midst of an energy transition. Our goal as a nation is to combat climate change and increase our energy security by producing clean and efficient American energy.”
Yes, the “President was commenting on a fact of economics and technology,” all of which will be enabled to advance through the subsidies contained in the IRA, the bill whose passage was enabled through the deciding vote of Sen. Manchin himself.
Seldom has any political figure surrendered as much political power with a single vote as Sen. Manchin did with his vote on the IRA. It is a power he will never be able to regain.