What a difference a few months can make, eh? As you likely recall from earlier this year, Joe Manchin was either the darling of Washington and the “acting president” or he was a demon, depending on who you asked. He was thwarting many of the best-laid plans of his own party in the upper chamber, even as the Democrats had to keep kissing his ring in the hope that he would allow some parts of their agenda to make it into law. He was simultaneously being courted by some Republicans who wanted to prevent the Democrats from running the board. Then came the day when he cut a sweetheart deal with Chuck Schumer to allow the hilariously named Inflation Reduction Act to make it over the finish line in exchange for a pipeline-permitting reform measure to go through separately. That would ensure the completion of a new pipeline in his home state that he has promised to his constituents.
But now the midterms have come and gone (mostly) and the mood in the Senate has changed. Schumer’s promise of passing the permitting reform bill may not hold up. And President Manchin likely won’t be getting any help from his “friends” in the GOP either, because they’re looking at his seat as a potential pickup in 2024 should he decide to run again. (The Hill)
Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) side deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to enact permitting reform before the end of the year is on life support as Republicans look to deprive the lawmaker of a major victory that could aid his potential 2024 reelection.
Manchin is in discussions with GOP colleagues about striking a deal on permitting reform in the lame-duck session, but Republicans say it faces an uphill path as they view his West Virginia Senate seat as a top pickup opportunity in the next election.
“It’s a heavy lift but we’re still exchanging ideas,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), one of the lead Republican negotiators on permitting reform.
Such is the stuff that political dreams in the swamp are made of. Most of the Democrats are obviously opposed to anything that might make it easier to produce and deliver fossil fuels and not all of the Senate Democrats feel obligated to make good on a deal that Chuck Schumer made without consulting them. The permitting reform bill would therefore likely need some GOP support to make it through. But now, even previously amenable Republicans like Shelley Moore Capito are describing it as “a heavy lift.” (That’s usually beltway code-speak for “not gonna happen.”)
If Manchin were to declare today that he was retiring and would not seek another term, the GOP might be convinced to go along with passing the permitting reform legislation. After all, it’s something nearly all of them want to see and it could be part of a solution to the Biden energy crisis that they promised to attempt during this term. But Manchin hasn’t given any indication of his future plans yet and Mitch McConnel wants to flip that seat to the red side far more than he feels any obligation to help Manchin out.
Keep in mind that Donald Trump carried West Virginia with almost seventy percent of the vote in 2020. In any other state, Joe Manchin would be indistinguishable from a Republican based on his policy preferences. But the weird politics of West Virginia keep Manchin in the D column. It’s probably the only state where Manchin could be elected as a Democrat, and if he retires he will almost certainly be replaced by a Republican, bringing the GOP one seat closer to a Senate majority.
Joe Manchin just turned 75 in August. If he seeks and wins another term he would be 83 by the time he’s finished. Surely that must be weighing on his mind at this point. If he decides to head off into retirement, he might be able to finish his run by delivering a pipeline that will be hugely popular in West Virginia, bringing with it 3,700 construction jobs, and $1.58 billion in spending in the state. It would probably be a pretty good way to top off his career in government service. Perhaps he should consider it.