Since Senator Joe Manchin III, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, cast the crucial vote last year for the Inflation Reduction Act, which gave President Biden his biggest legislative victory to date, the bill has weighed heavily on him politically.
Mr Manchin’s polls in his solidly Republican and coal-rich state fell last year after he played a pivotal role in writing climate, health and tax legislation. He has since worked to rebrand the pro-environmental bill, telling voters it would not only fight climate change, but also ensure fossil fuel production in the United States.
The senator, up for re-election next year and has flirted with a presidential run of his own, has declared a sort of legislative war against the measure he helped push through Congress. He has expressed frustration and dismay at what he calls the “radical climate agenda,” which he says is driving the Biden administration’s rollout of the law. And he’s still annoyed that his colleagues failed to include one of his top priorities: an initiative to expedite energy project permitting.
Mr Manchin went to Fox News last month and threatened to try to vote to overturn the legislation – “I will vote to repeal my own law,” he said – making common cause with Republicans who support the reversal of different provisions in the law. in exchange for raising the debt limit.
And Mr. Manchin, who enjoys his role as a bipartisan dealmaker on Capitol Hill, also spoke one-on-one with Speaker Kevin McCarthy about a potential debt ceiling compromise, including allowing energy, one of many areas those have emerged as a possible piece of common ground in conversations between the White House and congressional officials.
“We absolutely must make reforms for the good of our country,” Manchin said.
His position reflects his political fragility and at least one of the crosscurrents at play in bipartisan debt talks.
For now, the senator appears to be on a warpath with the Biden administration over the signing of the domestic policy bill. Expected costs exploded as the administration began handing out the tax credits the electric vehicle bill allowed. Mr Manchin has complained that the appropriations are unnecessary and wasteful and accused the administration of being slow to approve leases for domestic energy production.
Mr Manchin, who has a personal financial interest in the coal industry, also vowed last week to block all Environmental Protection Agency nominees over a proposal to tackle emissions from power plants.
“We’re not going to let them get away with it,” he said last week. “We’re going to shut everything down.”
The situation has created a political conundrum for Mr Manchin’s party. The Democrats desperately need him to run for re-election if they have any realistic hope of retaining the seat and maintaining their slim majority in the Senate. He has yet to commit to it, even though two Republicans — including the state’s governor Jim Justice — have stated they intend to push for it.
Instead, Mr. Manchin is openly flirting with running against Mr. Biden for president under the ticket of No Labels, a political organization backed by wealthy donors that bills itself as a centrist group. It has entered presidential elections in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Utah in hopes of creating the opportunity for Mr. Manchin — or any other centrist — to run as an independent candidate under his banner.
“Make no mistake, I will win every race I enter,” declared Mr. Manchin shortly after Mr. Justice entered the Senate race.
Democrats view the possibility of a presidential run in Manchin as disastrous for the party, but all but assure former President Donald J. Trump will win the 2024 election. But recent polls have shown Mr Biden following Mr Trump, and some people close to Mr Manchin say they think he could stand a chance if Mr Biden seems doomed to fail.
The senator appeared on a recent phone call with more than 200 donors discussing raising $70 million for a potential third party.
“To be the leader of the free world, you have to lead,” Mr. Manchin told donors, according to the audio of the phone call obtained by Puck News.
People close to him also see another motivation: if Mr. Manchin feels he is effective on Capitol Hill and that his party listens to him, he is more likely to run for re-election. If he’s frustrated with his party and miserable in the Senate, he’s more likely to explore other options, they say.
Nancy Jacobson, the CEO of No Labels, said her organization was trying to get a presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states as an “insurance policy” in case the two major parties did not support nominees.
“If Biden actually wants to make a deal on the debt ceiling or Biden actually wants to solve the border and immigration and actually solve these problems that the majority of Americans want solved, then there is no room for us,” she said. Jacobson said in an interview. “His numbers will go up, and we’ll go home.”
Manchin’s frustration with the Inflation Reduction Act began in December when he learned that Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen would allow tax credits for a range of electric vehicles instead of restricting them to commercial use, as he would have liked.
Treasury officials said they were simply following the law as written. But Mr. Manchin argued that was never his intention.
The credits, he wrote to Ms. Yellen, were “for commercial use only, and your department must follow the intentions of Congress.”
Partly because the electric vehicle tax credits have proved hugely popular, the legislation has become significantly more expensive, angering Mr Manchin, who sees himself as a deficit hawk. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill’s climate and clean energy tax cuts will cost at least $180 billion more than originally predicted.
The senator has also expressed concern that the Biden administration has been slow to approve leases for domestic energy production, arguing that officials are hesitant to do so unless a court order is issued. A government official working to roll out the legislation said the White House “expects some sales in the coming months.”
Mr Manchin also railed against John Podesta, a senior White House adviser, whom he accused of making comments that were “beyond irresponsible” because he said Chinese companies would be “major players” in US energy production .
Republicans are rushing to capitalize on the clash between Mr Manchin and the Biden administration. The Senate National Republican Committee recently released an ad highlighting Mr. Manchin’s vow to withdraw his own bill.
“The senator in West Virginia has clearly stated that he wrote the bill,” said West Virginia Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito, who has supported Mr. Justice. “It’s unusual to want to withdraw a bill you’ve written, but I understand he’s finally realizing what we all know: if you leave it to this government to write rules and regulations, they’re not going to stick to the letter of the law.” .”
But Mr. Manchin intends to use whatever resources he has to convince the Biden administration to see things his way. His staffers have spoken regularly with officials and he has been known to call Mr. Podesta directly.
“When Joe Manchin says something, he’s genuinely sincere,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Colorado Democrat who sits on the energy committee with Mr. Manchin. He added, “We definitely want to boost production in this country, and that’s what Joe is really fighting for.”