Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is walking a tightrope on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
While most Democrats tout it as a signature accomplishment for President Biden, Manchin is weighing his political future in a ruby-red state Biden lost by more than 40 points.
That’s left him with a love-hate relationship with the bill he helped write, one year after it was signed into law.
The high-wire act was on full display Wednesday. Manchin did not attend an event at the White House celebrating the first anniversary of Biden signing the bill into law. He also issued a scathing statement lauding the law as a whole, but taking aim at Biden administration officials who he says are trying to “undermine” it.
That followed Manchin’s recent reembrace of the law, which saw him issue words of support for provisions that will help him at home, which, in turn, came after he said he would vote to repeal the IRA in protest of how the Biden administration is implementing it.
It’s a fine line that he’ll likely have to continue if he seeks reelection next year.
“It’s a very delicate balance,” one Democratic operative told The Hill. “It’s very hard to promote a bill that a very unpopular president in your state signed, and that most liberal members of your party are promoting when you need to win in a state where Trump won by 42 points.”
“It’s a tough bill because all Manchin wants to talk about is the Mountain Valley Pipeline and all the energy projects that the bill is going to help create in West Virginia,” the operative continued. “And all of his Democratic colleagues want to talk about the green energy projects the bill creates.”
Manchin has for months attempted to navigate the tricky waters that the IRA has presented him. It was only in April when he made his vow that he would vote to repeal the IRA if the administration’s implementation of the law continued. He also said weeks after that he would oppose all of the administration’s future nominees for the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, he is more than willing to discuss what he believes to be the benefits of the law. In Wednesday’s statement commemorating the anniversary, Manchin hailed portions of the law, including its work to reduce the debt, lower prescription drug prices and cap the price of insulin for seniors.
“The Inflation Reduction Act is one of the most historic pieces of legislation passed in decades for working- and middle-class families, and we are already seeing real results across West Virginia,” Manchin said.
Democrats remain unsure whether Manchin will ultimately seek reelection next year, though they remain skeptical that his dalliance with a third-party bid for the White House will become anything more than that.
However, some believe that the West Virginia moderate is the only person in the party with the capability of successfully walking the fine line.
“This is a very difficult mountain for Sen. Manchin to climb, but he’s the only person who can climb it,” said John LaBombard, a former top aide to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and a Democratic strategist with ROKK Solutions. “If I’m Manchin and I’m public that I’ve had a beef with the administration over its implementation, that could work out nicely as he criticizes the stuff that isn’t working but touts the good stuff that got across the finish line.”
“What voters do with that, it’s all going to come down to Manchin’s brand, and he’s got a brand that’s close to bulletproof in the state,” LaBombard continued. “Is that brand still strong enough to win the trust of enough West Virginia voters? I don’t bet against Manchin if he runs.”
The latest set of remarks by Manchin brought out knives from Republicans as they try to inflict political damage. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) late last week panned Manchin for “re-embracing the law that West Virginians overwhelmingly detest.”
“After threatening to repeal the disastrous law he wrote, Joe Manchin is back to embracing Democrats’ reckless spending spree,” McConnell’s office said Friday.
One Nation, an outside GOP group tied to the Senate Leadership Fund, also announced a six-figure ad buy targeting Manchin over his support of the IRA.
Republicans believe that the opening is there for them to define the law a year into its existence. According to a Washington Post-University of Maryland survey conducted in mid-July, 71 percent of Americans said they know little or nothing about the law. Overall, 39 percent said they supported the IRA, while 39 percent said they weren’t sure, though respondents indicated support for certain provisions.
Democrats this week remained steadfast that the bill is a winner for all of their candidates, though they conceded it might take time for it to sink in for voters. Officials have fanned out across the country this week to tout provisions in the law.
“[Democratic senators] are doing different kinds of events, letting people know what’s happening in the IRA, and it’s going to sink in. It’ll take a little while. We have to be persistent at it and do it week after week,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters this week when asked about a reluctance by some members to campaign on the IRA.
The Democratic leader also likened his party’s messaging to their nonstop effort against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Republicans enacted in 2017 ahead of the 2018 midterms and argued that it could pay similar political dividends.
“We stayed on message for six months. It took a while for it to sink in, but once it sunk in, they couldn’t even campaign [on it] in 2018. We’re going to keep doing it, especially in the battleground states,” Schumer said, pointing to the opening of new factories and plants over the next year. “[Our senators] are getting great reaction when these things happen.”