Joe Manchin, a third-term senator and former governor from the deeply conservative US state of West Virginia, is a Democrat where no Democrat should exist. His own views skew far closer to the party he runs against than the one he represents. And yet for a few more months, he is perhaps the most powerful person in America – and the most dangerous.
With the Democratic majority in the Senate requiring every possible vote in order to pass a law (it is dead split, with the vice-president retaining the deciding vote), Manchin holds a spoiler vote for any legislation that the Joe Biden administration tries to pass. This is far from an ideal situation. It’s also far from unique – plenty of other Democratic Senators have links to one special interest group or another.
But Manchin’s pet industry is energy. And on his watch, the climate provisions that the US desperately needs to keep its citizens alive stand no chance of passing.
In May, the New York Times revealed that Manchin had used his personal power – first as a state senator in the 1980s, and in every successive office since then – to enrich energy companies connected to or directly owned by his family, all while raking in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. Earlier in July, after months of negotiations, Manchin finally pulled the plug, indicating that he would not support legislation that funded climate programmes or increased taxes on the wealthy. In his own state alone, that promise means more coal miners will die because of air pollution, more communities will be poisoned by dirty water, more nature preserves will be hacked apart by corporate interests (though not the ones where Manchin himself owns property).
The Democratic Party’s plan for Manchin was simple: despite his right-wing views, he was nominally a Democrat, who could be relied upon to vote with his caucus on unsensational but highly consequential issues such as confirming federal judges and other Biden administration appointees. The Senate’s structure – particularly after the Republican and former House majority leader Mitch McConnell managed to push through the Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 – meant that every vote the Democrats could count on was key, so Manchin had a long leash to pursue his conservative policies as long as he showed up for a Democratic president’s nominees.
Manchin has served this purpose faithfully during Biden’s presidency, though the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg during Donald Trump’s term means conservatives still dominates the Supreme Court. The Democratic Party, by continuing to support and back Manchin, clearly thinks that these marginal gains are worth the downside.
Focusing on Manchin shouldn’t distract from how the Republicans seem to be trying to turn the US into a fascist theocracy that funnels resources to the upper class. But when one side of the aisle’s goals are cataclysmically dire and openly malicious, it’s shocking that their opposition continues to count a quisling as one of their own. A smarter and more ruthless party would have excised him from his position and doubled its focus on winnable races in other states. Now, Manchin won’t face an election until 2024. The question is whether he’ll go into it with the support of the party he has betrayed. For thousands of his constituents, however, the point is moot: they’ll be dead from unnatural causes, killed by the man-made disasters that Joe Manchin refuses to prevent.
[See also: Why Joe Biden failed]