US Senator Joe Manchin is more powerful than President Joe Biden. Here’s how he handled it

He may not be the most famous Joe in American politics, but Senator Joe Manchin is fast becoming the most infamous.

The Democrat from West Virginia, a mountainous state known for his coal mining industry, currently has overall influence in Washington DC, where he has the decisive vote in an equally divided Senate.

In recent weeks, Senator Manchin and his Arizona Senate colleague, Kyrsten Sinema, have reduced their party’s ambitious agenda by more than half.

The $ 6 trillion Social Expenditure Plan, which was the backbone of Joe Biden’s presidency pitch, is now a slim $ 1.75 trillion “framework” with no key measures to tackle climate change.

Paid parental leave, lower prices for prescription drugs and free community college are also likely victims of ongoing negotiations.

Senator Manchin said his concerns simply reflected the concerns of most Americans.

“We can not go too far to the left,” he told CNN recently.

“This is not a center-left or a left-wing country. We are, if anything, a center-right country.”

Now that the plan has been decoupled from the bipartisan infrastructure law he co-authored, Senator Manchin has even less incentive to support it, citing rising inflation and cost-of-living concerns as reasons not to.

Yet the 74-year-old senator insists he does not enjoy being the deciding voice in almost all major political decisions in the United States.

“I did not want this [position] on someone, “he said during a recent interview.

But his critics claim he enjoys his newfound influence.

Progressive Democrats are frustrated with Joe Manchin for keeping their legislative agenda up. (Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)

Senator Manchin is a conservative among progressives and a lone Democrat from a solid Republican state, and Senator Manchin’s true motives are often lost behind the novelty of his character.

But his recent rise to national fame – driven by sinister corporate donations – has brought new scrutiny of what drives him.

So what does a man who lives on a luxury yacht while representing one of the poorest states in the country really want?

Son of a local mayor growing up to be kingmaker

Joseph Manchin III grew up in Farmington, West Virginia, a small coal mining town where his father and grandfather both served as mayors.

In the late 1980s, he founded a number of lucrative coal companies, then handed over the reins to his own son and switched to politics.

In 2005, he became governor – a role he held until 2010, when he was elected to the US Senate on a weapons platform that literally aimed at President Barack Obama’s signature policy.

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Senator Manchin – who describes himself as “tax conservative and socially compassionate” – has always been on the right of the Democratic Party.

His Republican-style obsession with small government, cut off social services and gun rights are often read as a reflection of the state he represents, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.

The more cynical view is that he is in it for himself.

“Senator Joe Manchin is an ongoing conflict of interest,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist specializing in government ethics for nonprofit watchdog Public Citizen.

“And it shows in his efforts to try to sabotage President Biden’s clean climate policy.

Senator Manchin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is the only reason a program to quickly replace coal and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy was cut out of the Build Back Better Plan.

The 50-50 split in the Senate, however, means that he – or another senator – can essentially veto the entire Democrats’ agenda.

“It puts him in a far more powerful position than even President Biden or anyone else,” Mr Holman said.

“And he exerts the unnecessary influence.”

How does Joe Manchin make millions on coal without losing his job?

Senator Manchin does not violate U.S. Senate rules because his son runs his two coal brokerage firms.

But he remains a shareholder.

A man in a suit and face mask wearing the West Virginia State flag stands in front of the American Capitol building
Joe Manchin says America is a “center-right nation.” (Reuters: Evelyn Hockstein)

Since 2011, he has personally earned about $ 5 million on coal, and last year he earned more than $ 500,000 from one of his companies, Enersystems, which buys waste coal from mines to sell to power plants for fuel.

By comparison, a U.S. senator typically earns $ 174,000 a year.

Boguslaw spent months mapping out what he called the senator’s “dirty empire” by using public records to show the human and environmental impacts of the senator’s extensive private business.

Any characterization of Senator Manchin as an impartial “moderate” is deeply flawed, Mr Boguslaw claims, as he receives more donations of fossil fuels than any other member of Congress.

Instead, he puts Senator Manchin’s motives on three things: corporate donations, an amorphous centered ideology, and his family’s ambition to create a political dynasty in the form of the Kennedy family.

“[Democrats] fabricated this myth around him that his moderation and his ability to take money from all these extractive industries is what has preserved his power and made him a critical voice [in Washington],” he said.

It is worth noting that the people of West Virginia consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates until the 2000s.

Senator Manchin’s office declined to comment.

What do West Virginians think of their senator?

Progressive Democrats have openly voiced their frustrations over Senator Manchin’s refusal to support the party’s agenda, despite its popularity, even among West Virginians who voted for Trump.

But he goes on to argue that he does not want to promote a “culture of entitlement” nor to employ his 10 grandchildren in debt.

Joe Manchin walks through the US Congress surrounded by masked journalists and photographers
Local polls show that about 42 percent of West Virginia residents approve of Senator Manchin, while 37 percent say they disagree.(AP: J. Scott Applewhite)

“We are not asking for a handout. What we want is a hand up,” said Pam Garrison, co-chair of the advocacy group for the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign.

“You’re talking about the future of your grandchildren – what about the future of my grandchildren?

“What kind of world do you want them to leave?”

Ms Garrison – whose father, grandfather and husband worked as coal miners – raised two children on a shop worker’s salary and says Senator Manchin is deliberately blind to the realities of workers in his home state, where the poverty rate was 16 percent before. to the pandemic.

In October, a group of West Virginians were so desperate to talk to the senator that they kayaked up to the 12-foot-long yacht he sleeps on while working on Capitol Hill.

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“It’s like every road we go, we hit a wall that the government has put up so we can hit them. And they stand there and shout, ‘We’re doing this for your own good,’ Garrison said.

Recently, when asked if his refusal to pass the Social Expenditure Bill made him less popular at home, Senator Manchin said: “It depends on which corner of the city you go to.”

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