Sen. Joe Manchin III has been distancing himself from President Biden ahead of a possible run as a Democrat in conservative West Virginia even as he plays coy with his reelection intentions.
He has opposed a series of the president’s nominees, is backing GOP efforts to dismantle Mr. Biden’s regulatory agenda and is in a bitter fight with the administration over the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act that he helped write and pass in a party-line vote.
Although one of the most conservative Democrats in the chamber, Mr. Manchin is still a Democrat in a state that gave 68.6% of the vote to then-President Trump in the 2020 election. He remains vague on his plans for the future and says he won’t reveal his intentions until year’s end.
“We’re in Washington, that’s all I can say,” he said when The Washington Times pressed him about his reelection plans. “People are going to surmise anything they want to. I want to make sure we have energy security for our country. That’s all I care about.”
That hasn’t stopped Republicans — and some Democrats — from suggesting his outrage over some of the administration’s recent actions is a political ploy to win over disgruntled voters back home.
Mr. Manchin, who would be one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in 2024, has been under water in approval rating in his home state.
In the months after his central role in passing the Inflation Reduction Act last year, Mr. Manchin’s approval rating with West Virginians suffered a double-digit drop from roughly 60% to 42%, according to polling by Morning Consult. The bleak numbers ranked him as the second most unpopular senator with a 53% disapproval rate. Only Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was less popular at 64% disapproval.
These days, Mr. Manchin has opposed three nominees in recent weeks, successfully tanking Gigi Sohn’s bid to join the Federal Communications Commission and blocking Interior Department nominee Laura Daniel-Davis with his perch atop the Senate Energy Committee.
His latest ding against the president’s nominees came in a Houston Chronicle newspaper op-ed headlined: “The Biden Admin panders to climate activists. I won’t support their nominees.”
Mr. Manchin also opposed Daniel Werfel for IRS commissioner, who was confirmed last week thanks to several Republican senators who crossed the aisle to support him.
Mr. Manchin’s opposition stemmed from his feud with the administration over its implementation of $370 billion in clean energy tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act or IRA. It was approved under special rules that enabled Democrats to force it through the Senate in a party-line vote and couldn’t have passed without Mr. Manchin’s support.
He was also pivotal in crafting the law.
Still, Mr. Manchin says he’s lost trust in the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, and accused the agency of subverting portions of the law that require electric vehicle components and manufacturing to be sourced in North America to qualify for up to $7,500 in tax credits. The measure was designed to wean the U.S. off its dependency on China for crucial EV parts, such as critical minerals used in batteries. However, Treasury is so far refusing to enforce the rule months after it was supposed to take effect at the start of the year.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who hails from the auto industry state of Michigan, emphasized Mr. Manchin’s involvement in the IRA and said she has no qualms about the EV credits that have him up in arms.
“He wrote the IRA, first of all,” said Ms. Stabenow, a member of Democratic leadership. “I support the way the administration is administering the EV tax credits. They’re very complicated and very difficult.”
Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican and chair of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, said Mr. Manchin is getting what he asked for.
“He was the deciding vote on the so-called Inflation Reduction Act,” Mr. Daines said. “It was a terrible vote, in my opinion, enabling the Biden administration and Senate Democrats to perpetuate their green hallucination on America.”
Treasury argues that the law is complicated and requires more time to create policy guidance as it faces fierce blowback from European allies that the “Made in the USA” rule deters international trade and partnerships.
But those excuses don’t fly with Mr. Manchin.
“I cannot get this administration to implement the IRA the way it’s supposed to be as an energy security bill,” Mr. Manchin recently told reporters.
He added that Treasury “has pandered to automakers and progressive extremist groups and continued to sacrifice the national security of the United States of America.”
However, some of Mr. Manchin’s Senate colleagues say the alarm bells he continues to ring are genuine and reasonable.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican, said Mr. Manchin’s frustration underscores why Republicans have little faith in the administration.
“I think it’s sincere on Joe’s part, but I think it’s indicative of exactly why we don’t trust this administration,” Mr. Cramer said. “Joe’s in the wrong party, that’s the problem.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and a member of the House Progressive Caucus, said he shares the same concerns about the EV credits despite other policy differences with Mr. Manchin.
“I talked to Sen. Manchin throughout the process of the IRA, and his No. 1 concern was to make things in America,” Mr. Khanna said. “This has been his mantra. There may be other places that have to do with political considerations, but this is a core value.”
Mr. Manchin has also been siding with Republican efforts to scuttle Mr. Biden‘s regulatory policies.
On two separate occasions, he has signed onto privileged resolutions that must receive votes and only require a simple majority to pass.
The first would nullify a new Labor Department rule allowing 401(k) managers to engage in so-called ESG investing that considers climate change and social justice when making investment decisions.
The second would blocks expanded Environmental Protection Agency powers over “waters of the United States” or WOTUS to include streams, wetlands and possibly drainage ditches. The resolution of disapproval is expected to pass the Senate in an upcoming vote.
Neither will survive presidential vetoes.
Echoing GOP concerns, Mr. Manchin told The Associated Press that WOTUS “would interject further regulatory confusion, place unnecessary burdens on small businesses, farmers and local communities, and cause serious economic damage.”