Joe Manchin is having a hard time

On Monday night, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s office blasted out a press release under the subject line, “MANCHIN THREATENS TO REPEAL INFLATION REDUCTION ACT.” Yes, he was threatening to repeal his own bill.

In an appearance with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Manchin went off about how he believes the Biden administration, in implementing the IRA, is ignoring provisions for expanding fossil fuel development and “energy security” and focusing exclusively on the “environment.”

“If the Administration does not honor what they said they would do, and continue to liberalize what we are supposed to invest in over the next ten years,” Manchin told Hannity, “I will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening. And if they don’t change, then I would vote to repeal my own bill.”

The following morning, another email from Manchin’s office: “ICYMI: MANCHIN THREATENS TO REPEAL INFLATION REDUCTION ACT.” They really wanted people to know he said this, and on Fox News to boot.

Why, though? Does it make Manchin look shrewd to announce he got duped on Democrats’ signature legislation, which he negotiated, and on which he was the deciding vote? It’s close to a political Hail Mary. Much of what he’s doing, recently, is.

Manchin’s political future looks more dire than it ever has before, and it seems like he’s casting about.

It’s an incredible testament to Manchin’s political skill that he’s made it this far. West Virginia is arguably the reddest state in the country, and Manchin has won three Senate races there. In his 2010 Senate race—as the popular sitting governor, in a special election to replace Robert Byrd—he shot a copy of Democrats’ climate bill with a rifle for a campaign ad. He was fortunate to run his next two races in 2012 and 2018 in exceptionally strong years for Democrats. He’s never drawn great challengers, as neither John Raese nor Patrick Morrisey could muster strong answers about the extent to which they lived in West Virginia.

Even in the strongly pro-Democratic 2018 midterm cycle, though, when Manchin was facing Morrisey, the former New Jersey congressional candidate-turned-D.C. lobbyist, Manchin only won by 3 points. Should he run for reelection in 2024, the state hasn’t gotten any bluer, and he’ll be running down-ticket from a Republican presidential nominee who’s going to win the state by 40 points.

And he’s getting a genuinely tough opponent this time.

After heavy recruitment efforts from the national party, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is entering the Senate race. Justice, who was first elected governor as a Democrat and then switched parties, is one of the most popular governors in the country. He’s also a billionaire, and having a billion dollars is a useful asset when running for Senate. Justice will face competition in the primary from Rep. Alex Mooney, who has the backing of the conservative Club for Growth. If Justice can muscle through that, though, a general election against Manchin might not quite be the “blockbuster” race it’s being set up to be. The popular Republican, in the most Republican state, in a presidential year, could simply defeat the Democrat with ease.

Manchin has said he won’t make any decision until the end of the year—perhaps because he wants to see how badly Justice and Mooney rough each other up in the primary. Manchin has also been making noises about running for president as part of an independent, No Labels-backed project that, if it had any effect at all, would be to hand the presidency to Donald Trump. It sounds like the sort of fantasy a politician would entertain when he realizes he’s unlikely to win reelection for Senate.

While he may not be able to determine whether there’s a path for him until the end of the year, Manchin has spent the last few months preparing rhetorically for a difficult reelection. Before threatening to repeal his own bill, Manchin has sounded like a conventional conservative Republican in his press statements trashing the Biden administration.

When President Biden vetoed a resolution in March that would nix the administration’s environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investment rule, Manchin said that “this Administration continues to prioritize their radical policy agenda over the economic, energy and national security needs of our country, and it is absolutely infuriating.” He added that Biden was “choosing to put his Administration’s progressive agenda above the well-being of the American people.”

When House Republicans released their debt limit proposal last week—320 pages of stuff Democrats hate—Manchin congratulated Speaker Kevin McCarthy “for putting forward a proposal that would prevent default and rein in federal spending.” He insisted Biden come to the negotiating table instead of trying to “score political points with the extremes of the Democratic Party.”

Manchin is also quashing nominations here and there to create further separation from Biden. He effectively killed off the nomination of Gigi Sohn as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, castigating “her years of partisan activism, inflammatory statements online, and work with far-left groups.”

All eyes are on Manchin again as the Senate prepares to consider Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su’s nomination for Labor Secretary, which advanced out of committee on Wednesday. When asked in March why he supported Su’s confirmation as deputy, he said that having ex-Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in place as her boss assuaged his concerns. “I had Marty Walsh,” he said, “and I am looking for a Marty Walsh.” Well, Walsh recommended Su to replace him and is working the phones like a maniac to get her the job, and organized labor is locked in behind Su. But! Voting against Su would be politically useful to him.

On Wednesday, Manchin voted with Republicans to overturn a Biden rule limiting pollution from heavy-duty trucks. With California Sen. Dianne Feinstein out, he was the deciding vote. It passed.

Manchin denies that he’s taken on a more hostile tone toward the administration, or changed his voting habits, as he looks toward his reelection.

He was never a rubber-stamp for Biden in the last two Congresses. But he also wasn’t taking every shot he had to issue statements or go on Fox News calling the Biden administration a bunch of tree-hugging commies. And given that we’re at the “I’ma repeal my big bill!” phase of in-cycle pivoting, one can only wonder what’s next. Since the Inflation Reduction Act won’t be repealed—at least in this Congress, and Manchin may not be around for the next one—he will just have to shoot it with whichever gun liberals hate most. He needs to start referring to the Democratic Party—his political party—as the “Democrat Party,” Republicans’ favorite slur of their counterparts, and he needs to start doing that yesterday. Maybe revisit opposition to Jan. 6 a little bit? Just brainstorming here.

Tough times.


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