The White House is upping its efforts to court Sen. Joe Manchin III, a vital Democratic swing-vote for President Biden’s agenda, as bipartisan infrastructure talks stall.
The administration dispatched Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm for a two-day tour of Mr. Manchin’s home state of West Virginia this week to “showcase the promise and potential” of a green-energy economy in coal country.
“We are all about jobs. As the president said when he hears the word climate he translates it into jobs,” Ms. Granholm said. “The important message is that President Biden wants to make sure that no one is left behind and that these communities see an opportunity for themselves in this clean energy future.”
Ms. Granholm’s visit is part of a dual effort by the administration to bring Mr. Manchin to its side on infrastructure and climate change, while simultaneously convincing voters that curbing greenhouse gas emissions will benefit economic livelihoods, not cost them.
The first objective arises from the political reality facing Mr. Biden with Democrats narrowly in control of Congress. The Senate, in particular, is split 50-50 between the parties, with Democrats claiming the majority because of the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Mr. Biden has two options to pass his massive infrastructure plan: Either garner the support of at least 10 Republican senators to overcome a filibuster or use a process known as budget reconciliation that allows spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.
At the moment, talks with Republicans appear to be faltering. Neither side can agree on the size of the spending, what is included as infrastructure or how to pay for new spending.
The breakdown in bipartisan talks means Mr. Biden will likely rely on budget reconciliation to pass an infrastructure package. Reconciliation, however, is a path fraught with political danger.
With Democrats only holding narrow control of the Senate, the process allows any individual senator to blow up the proceedings if they so choose. At the moment, the senator most likely to play an outsize role is Mr. Manchin, who has shied away from embracing Mr. Biden’s big-spending infrastructure ideas.
Mr. Manchin has called for a targeted infrastructure package along the lines of what Republicans have proposed. The senator, though, has not drawn any red lines while the process plays out.
A Democrat from what has become a solidly Republican state, Mr. Manchin has urged for bipartisanship above all else in the negotiations.
“We’ve got to bring our country together. We can’t continue to split and go further apart,” Mr. Manchin said recently on CNN. “We just can’t do that, we’ve got to work together. That takes a lot of time and energy and patience.”
Despite his assertion that attempting to pass major legislation without bipartisan support is a “disaster waiting to happen,” many believe Mr. Manchin can be won over.
Last month, Mr. Biden appointed the senator’s wife to a $160,000-per-year job with the Appalachian Regional Commission. As a further part of the courting effort, the administration has dispatched several high-profile officials to West Virginia.
The White House’s strategy for wooing Mr. Manchin bleeds into its efforts to convince workers, especially in regions economically dependent on fossil fuels, that combating climate change will not wipe out American jobs.
West Virginia, which is the nation’s fifth-largest energy-producing state with an abundance of coal and natural gas, is seen as the perfect environment for such a message. The state includes a larger than average portion of white working-class voters, who once exclusively supported Democrats but have defected in large numbers to the GOP in recent years.
As such, Ms. Granholm plans to make a jobs-centric climate change argument during her swing through West Virginia. On Thursday, in particular, the energy secretary announced a new collaboration between West Virginia manufacturers and the offshore wind industry.
“This is sort of a window into the opportunity for West Virginia to be a leader in the energy of the future in addition to having led the energy that got us here and still powers us,” Ms. Granholm said.
Despite the rhetoric, it will be difficult to convince communities and workers dependent on fossil fuels that the White House has their best interests at heart.
“It’s hard to make people think you’re on their side when on your first day in office, you cancel the Keystone XL pipeline,” said one West Virginia labor leader “Or champion policies that when implemented would devastate coal and natural gas.”
Since taking office Mr. Biden has unveiled an ambitious climate change agenda, proposing to curb greenhouse gas emissions more than 50% by 2030.
To meet that goal, the White House has also proposed a 100% carbon-free electricity mandate by 2035. The policy explicitly targets the coal and natural gas industries, which produce 63% of all electricity consumed in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.
“We very much appreciate Energy Secretary Granholm’s interest in West Virginia, and we hope her visit will help the Biden administration recognize the devastating impact that its policies will have on our economy and its people,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican.
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