This story was originally published by Vanity Fair.
Joe Manchin didn’t just deal Democrats a “setback.” He didn’t only deliver a “crushing blow” to President Joe Biden. In pulling the rug out from under his negotiating partners — for the umpteenth time in the last year and a half — the West Virginia conservative may have doomed the last, best chance to pass legislation combating climate change for the foreseeable future. “We are not going to meet our targets, period,” environmental scientist Leah Stokes, who has advised congressional Democrats on climate legislation, told the New York Times on Friday. “I honestly don’t know how he is going to look his own grandchildren in the eyes.”
Democratic leaders have spent months courting Manchin, dramatically scaling back their once-ambitious domestic agenda in an effort to gain his approval, which they’d need to bypass the GOP’s filibuster through a budget process called reconciliation. As recently as this week, they were hopeful for a compromise, noting “real progress” in talks with the West Virginian on a package that included tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and provisions to address global warming. But Manchin started getting cold feet as the week wore on, telling reporters he was “very, very cautious” about doing anything that would contribute to inflation. Then, on Thursday, he blew up the negotiations: According to the Washington Post, he told his fellow Democrats that he would not support any climate action or tax increases for top earners — and essentially accused them of playing politics.
“Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation soars to 9.1 percent,” Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon said. “Senator Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, reevaluate and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire.”
It’s unclear how, exactly, Manchin’s move Thursday would curb inflation — especially considering he himself described tax increases on wealthy Americans as central to bringing down consumer prices earlier this year. It’s also interesting choice of words, given parts of the country are literally on fire and much of America is in the midst of a dangerous heat wave — including Texas, which is burning so hot that its power grid is once again straining. Inflation is a real challenge right now, both at home and abroad. But climate change is not an abstract threat or a political game, as Manchin’s office implies; its effects are being felt, here in America and across the world, right now. And, without significant, concerted action, it will get worse. In torpedoing even the modest measures Democrats have put forth, Manchin is significantly increasing the likelihood that it will. “I’m not going to sugarcoat my disappointment here, especially since nearly all issues in the climate and energy space had been resolved,” Senator Ron Wyden said. “This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic — and costly — effects of climate change.”