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We'll Believe It When We See It, Joe

The West Virginia senator now says passing climate legislation should be easy, actually.

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Sen. Joe Manchin walking with his hands up and flashing a smile in the basement of the Capitol.
Photo: Anna Moneymaker (Getty Images)

A few weeks after nuking the Democratic Build Back Better Agenda live on Fox News, Sen. Joe Manchin would like you to know the climate part is a piece of cake.

The West Virginia senator spoke with reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, where he was predictably barraged by questions about what the hell is going on with the Build Back Better Act, the centerpiece of what could be a transformative Democratic agenda. The legislation passed the House before getting bogged down in the Senate, where Democrats hold a razor-thin majority, as Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema slowly hacked away at it. (Republicans, for their part, have just stood by with zero intent to engage.)


Manchin said negotiations have not restarted on the act itself. But he did throw in the following tidbit, according to Politico: “I think that the climate thing is one that we probably can come to agreement much easier than anything else.”

This is decidedly curious for a few reasons, chief among them being how Manchin has treated the climate provisions in the act. Among the provisions Manchin has reportedly opposed at one point or another are a clean energy standard (the act’s strongest climate provision), tax credits for union-made electric vehicles, and a fee on methane. Manchin’s obstruction—which, it should be noted, lines up extremely well with dirty oil companies’ and utilities’ priorities—already left the U.S. compromised at international climate talks in November.


If climate was an easy fix, then doing a deal on it before the most consequential climate negotiation yet would’ve been an ideal time. Going on Fox News to announce your opposition and then putting out a wildly bad faith statement intimating that transitioning to clean energy would cause blackouts is also not exactly confidence-instilling! Manchin’s long history also includes a campaign ad literally shooting a 2009 cap-and-trade bill, the last piece of major climate legislation to get a vote in the House and die in the Senate.

Still, shortly after Manchin threw the Build Back Better Act under the bus, the United Mine Workers of America put out a statement asking the coal state senator to reconsider his life choices. It wasn’t the child tax credits or other pieces of the legislation that the union led with in its statement either; instead, the climate provisions in the act were front and center of why it wanted Manchin to go back to the negotiating table.

There may very well be some common ground for Manchin and his fellow Democratic senators to hammer out a deal on climate, particularly around a just transition. It’s also entirely possible this is a bait and switch on Manchin’s part, buying more time to run out the clock. Doing a climate-only bill, something Manchin also reportedly suggested, would come with its own series of complications as well.

Would Democrats use their one reconciliation shot on an even more watered-down climate bill, giving up on the suite of other social safety net programs? Would they do it outside reconciliation and somehow find 10 Republicans willing to support climate legislation? Would the House even go along? Would whatever agreement bring the U.S. any closer to meeting its climate goal of reducing carbon emissions at least 50% by 2030, something that was already a long shot after Manchin’s initial winnowing process? Would you lick this screen? (Sorry, the last one was a test.)


All of which is to say, it’s nice that Joe Manchin is open to “the climate thing.” But we’re gonna need a few more details before getting too excited.