Joe Manchin rethinking – The New York Times

Manchin’s liberal critics sometimes imagine that they know more about winning the West Virginia election than he does — and that he could continue even if he behaved like most Democrats. As Ruy Teixeira, another political scientist, wrote, “If it wasn’t Joe Manchin from the already conservative state of West Virginia, but instead Joe Manchin from someone else, much more liberal, West Virginia!”

It’s true that Manchin helped defeat several Democratic priorities over the past two years. He decided to extend an increased child tax credit that would reduce child poverty. He refused to abandon the filibuster to make changes to voting rights (although he was not the only Senate Democrat opposed to doing so). He helped block two highly qualified Biden nominees, Sarah Bloom Raskin for Federal Reserve official and Neera Tanden for budget director. But the Democratic disappointment was not surprising. Manchin has survived by being a staunch Democrat on some issues — such as health care, labor issues, taxes on the wealthy and, mostly, climate policy — while defying the party in high-profile ways on others. His criticism of Biden’s proposals over the past year has increased his approval rating in West Virginia, polls show.

“Democrats should be able to immediately make up their minds about the West Virginia politician,” as Noel explained in the Washington Post. First of all, Manchin is more conservative than most Democrats and sometimes harms the party’s agenda. Second, he may be the most valuable Democrat in Washington today. (If you believe that Biden was the only plausible 2020 nominee who would have beaten Trump, Manchin might be a close second.)

Having said all this, I understand some of the intensity of liberal criticism in recent months. If Manchin had blocked the climate bill, as he seemed about to do, it would have caused a bigger break with his party than anything he’s done before. It would have come on an issue of signature importance to the country and the world.

The obvious question is whether the criticism itself helped change Manchin’s mind. I think many of the more immediate attacks probably weren’t meant to be: After all, he’s heard similar criticism about his stance on the poets and voting rights, and he hasn’t done the budget. But the specific argument that he alone could be responsible for climate damage may have helped sway him. That, at least, is the impression many Capitol Hill observers have.

“He’s always indicated that he’s willing to go big on climate,” Rep. Ro Khanna, a progressive California Democrat, told SFGate this week. And Carl Hulse, The Times’ chief Washington correspondent, told me: “Manchin didn’t want the Democrats to be blamed for letting the planet go up in flames. He was the one who returned to Chuck Schumer when he was trying to make a deal after the slaughter of criticism.”

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