What Sen. Joe Manchin’s rejection of new spending means for the climate change fight

President Biden is sharply ratcheting back his expectations Friday for a major economic aid package. This comes as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has ruled out backing key funding proposals for his party's action on climate change. Lisa Desjardins joins William Brangham for more on this blow to Biden's domestic agenda.

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  • William Brangham:

    As we reported, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has ruled out backing key funding proposals for his party's action on climate change.

    Our Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins is here for more on this blow to the president's domestic agenda might play out.

    Hi, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hi.

  • William Brangham:

    So, Joe Manchin says he's not going to do it. What is the latest?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, lots to talk about.

    President Biden was just asked about this in Saudi Arabia. He sidestepped the question overall, and just said he himself is going to now try to do what he can as president.

    But let's remind everyone what just happened in the last 24 hours. We are talking about that Build Back Better idea that started as such a huge idea last fall, kept getting smaller and smaller because of Senator Joe Manchin largely.

    And over in the last couple of months, they have been talking about two ideas, adding some health care and climate provisions. Let's look at what now is in it, based on what we know about Senator Joe Manchin, who is the decisive vote here.

    Now, this is where we are. First of all, still in this package is Medicare negotiation of drug prices. That is a big deal. Also still in this package, Joe Manchin still supports the Affordable Care Act subsidies that need — that are going to run out at the end of the year. He would extend those.

    But, no, he says in the last day, he will not support climate change provisions in this and also no to increasing taxes on the wealthy. You notice that says for now. The reason is he says that he wants to review where the economy is in August, more or less, and perhaps then he would think about this again.

  • William Brangham:

    So Lisa, on those climate change provisions specifically, as you mentioned, this is not the massive Build Back Better. But, still, the things that he said no to were substantive, some of the most major steps the federal government might have taken on climate change.

    What was it that got dropped out?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    So, in the fall, we lost that portion, or the Democrats lost that portion that was having a renewable standard across this country, very big chunk. But what has been dropped more recently is just as large. Let me explain what was on the table two days ago and no longer is, climate change provision that would be tax incentives, $300 billion.

    That would be the largest in U.S. history for this issue. Those include incentives for things like manufacturing, so how they pump out emissions from plants, homes, travel. Almost all parts of American life could have been affected by this. And there was one estimate that said that this would have cut power emissions by some 74 percent over 2009 levels.

    So what we're talking about here is not just what's in the air, but also business, talking about building of solar industry capacity in this country, building of winds, all of those kinds of ideas. So, also, some jobs are involved here as well.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, the timing of this really could not be worse.

    We just experienced the hottest June in recorded history. The U.N. recently said that the world's nations have utterly failed to live up to the commitments they made to cut emissions, and now this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    And we talked today to an expert about all of this, in fact, and talking about, where are we? What does this mean for where the world is and where the U.S. is? We talked to Leah Stokes from U.C. Santa Barbara, who's been studying this, and she had a very strong reaction.

    Leah Stokes, University of California, Santa Barbara: The climate crisis is already having devastating impacts on our communities and our families.

    There is a drought in the Western United States that is the worst in a millennium. We're talking 1,200 years. That's how terrible the drought is right now. We are seeing heat wave smash records all across the country year after year. And those heat waves are killing people. We're seeing hurricanes, flooding, you name it.

    Climate change is on our doorstep, and the impacts for Americans is just devastating.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Remember, President Biden's original goal was to cut America's carbon emissions in half by 2050. That is a big goal and something the world needs to say — maybe even that isn't enough.

    But now we're going to be nowhere near that unless there's a program like this that gets renewed, but it's off the table now.

  • William Brangham:

    What did Senator Manchin say was the reason why he backed away from this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right, one man who can stop this, because of the 50/50. Senate. He said it's because of inflation.

    He spoke on West Virginia radio today. And here's what he said.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV):

    Inflation is absolutely killing many, many people. They can't buy gasoline. They have a hard time buying groceries. Everything they buy and consume for their daily lives is a hardship to them. And can't we wait to make sure that we do nothing to add to that?

    And I can't make that decision on — basically on taxes of any type, and also on the energy and climate, because it takes the taxes to pay for the investment into clean technology that I'm in favor of.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, of course, we have been reporting two historic zone figures for inflation just this week.

  • William Brangham:

    Critics of Senator Manchin say he has never wanted to do anything that could hurt the coal industry that is beloved in his state, that he himself also derives a lot of his own personal fortune from the coal industry.

    They also point out that he gets, I think, one of the largest amounts of donations from the fossil fuel industry. And, thus, all of these things make it so that he has an intense conflict of interests to talk about any of this type of legislation.

    What does he say to that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He has said, he's admitted that he does have significant income from his company — his family's business that is invested and works with coal.

    However, he has said that any business in West Virginia has just as much access to him as the coal companies do. And he has said his concern overall is about fiscal spending and inflation the economy writ large.

  • William Brangham:

    So it's off the table for now.

    There's still, again, as we always hear from Manchin, the hints that maybe it might come back again. What's next?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, let's talk about where we are, because there are some that still hope that perhaps he will get on board in September.

    But there's a calendar issue. So I want to go through that with people. It's important. So here's the Senate's tight calendar coming up. We now have three weeks until they're planning to leave for their August recess. Now, in August, that is the same month by which insurance companies really need to know, will the Affordable Care Act subsidy program be expanded or not? Because that's when they're turning in their rates for next year.

    And that's a big deadline for Democrats. They want to figure that out by then. And these two things are tied together, because Democrats get one shot at a reconciliation bill. And look at that. The deadline for that reconciliation bill is September 30. So, whether there is a bill that is only these health care provisions, or if somehow there's some climate in it, they have to get that done by September 30.

    And Democrats also have this August deadline. So all of this is very difficult, environmentalists very concerned. They think there's still some kind of hope, but a lot of Democrats — talking to a senator today, a Democrat, they don't trust Joe Manchin anymore. They say he's not saying the words no, but we have to understand he's telling us no.

  • William Brangham:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you so much for getting us through all this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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