Thursday July 21, 2022

Hard stance

Hard stance

Senator Joe Manchin

Joe Manchin is a Democrat senator from the small eastern state of West Virginia which is famous for its wooded mountains, coal mining, and logging industries. Born in 1947 in the small coal-mining town of Farmington, Manchin took a business degree at the state university and founded a coal brokerage firm which he ran while pursuing a career in state politics. He turned over the multi-million-dollar business to a son after his election to the US national legislature in 2010 following the death of veteran Democrat lawmaker Robert Byrd. Manchin plans to run for a third full term in the Senate in 2024.

He is known as the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and has collaborated with obstructionist Republicans on climate change and the environment, abortion, immigration, infrastructure, taxing the rich, and gun control.

Since the 100-member Senate is split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans with Vice President Kamala Harris casting deciding votes, Manchin has exploited the “swing vote” by voting for or against legislation or, even, threatening to vote for or against when they reach the upper house. This means Manchin has a veto over policies.

Thanks to his hyper-conservative orientation, Manchin has become the main obstacle to fellow Democrat Joe Biden’s initiatives on the defining issues of his faltering presidency. This makes Manchin both a dangerous man and, ultimately, a villain on the global scene.

Manchin was sworn in by former Vice President Biden but did not connect with the Obama administration. Instead, he welcomed the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and voted with Trump on more than half of his bills and for two of Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominees. While opposing most progressive policies, such as national health care and the Green New Deal, he backed US withdrawal from Afghanistan, opposed US military intervention in Syria and voted to convict Trump in both of his impeachment trials.

After Biden’s inauguration in 2021, Manchin — who depends on campaign funding from fossil fuel interests — said he would vote against the president’s signature Build Back Better Act. He along with the Republicans scuppered this legislation which aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 by investing in electric vehicles and cleaning up the energy sector. This amounted to a serious blow to global efforts to tackle climate change as the US is the world’s second most prolific polluter after China, which, contrast to the US, is making a serious effort to reduce emissions.

Manchin negotiated a less expensive, restricted version of the original bill but changed his mind about backing is own draft. He has also prevented Democrats from putting forward a new bill.

The Guardian quoted climate scientist Michael Mann as saying, “Given the US’s role as the leading all-time carbon polluter, it is difficult to see global action on climate without US leadership.” He called Manchin “a modern-day villain, who drives a Maserati, lives on a yacht, courtesy of the coal industry, and is willing to see the world burn as long as it benefits his near-term investment portfolio.”

Scientists argue the world must cut emissions in half during this decade, and get to net-zero emissions by 2050, to avoid global climate catastrophe.

By adopting a largely negative approach to Biden and his policies Manchin has also undermined his presidency. This is a highly risky effort. By obstructing and weakening Biden, Manchin is almost certainly dooming Democrat candidates running for seats in the House of Representatives and Senate in the November elections for the entire House and two-thirds of the Senate. If the Democrats lose their majority in the House and even one of the 50 seats they hold in the Senate, Biden will become a lame duck president during his last two years in office and a Republican could succeed him in the White House.

Another four years of an unstable, unpredictable Trump or a Trump clone would be the worst possible scenario for a world beleaguered by covid and its variants, embattled by wars in Ukraine and elsewhere, consumed by heat waves and wildfires and threatened with famine.

West Virginian voters do not think of the consequences for the US and the world when they cast ballots for Manchin who has an approval rating of 57 per cent, the highest of any member of the Senate although he does not represent the majority of the state’s citizens. While his business is coal, is not a miner struggling to make ends meet. He is a millionaire. His annual Senate salary is $174,000. Combined with income from other sources, this makes $700,000 per year, and his estimated net worth is $8 million.

Rich West Virginians vote for him because he protects the interests of the wealthy who seek to avoid minute surtaxes on their multi-million-dollar incomes. He defends coal mine owners, miners and loggers who fear the shift to clean energy will cost them their livelihoods. He supports the “pro-life” movement because he gets the votes of fellow Catholics and evangelicals who are determined to ban abortions. The majority of inhabitants of Manchin’s small state care little about the dangers his actions pose to the US as a whole and the world.

In 1863, West Virginia seceded from the slave state of Virginia and joined the Union as it battled to abolish slavery and reassert control over the south during the US civil war. West Virginia is the fifth poorest state in the US and its 1.8 million inhabitants have the lowest level of higher education in the country. Until the 1990s West Virginia was solidly Democrat but shifted to the Republicans in 2008 when Barack Obama ran for the presidency and has become one of the most assertive Republican states since then. This is why Joe Manchin has adopted the unprincipled reactionary stands he has taken and fully intends to continue taking, whatever the consequences.

Photo: TNS

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