Why Joe Manchin Is Popular and Joe Biden Is Not

The wall-to-wall coverage of progressive carping about Joe Biden has been interrupted by reruns of progressive carping about West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

Last week, in the wake of horrible inflation numbers, Manchin said, in effect, “I’m out” on President Biden’s climate, energy, and tax package. Because the Senate is split 50-50, that means it’s effectively dead for the foreseeable future since no Republican is likely to go along with it. Manchin didn’t say he’d never vote for it, but he wants to pass a prescription drug bill first. Since there’s no room on the legislative calendar before the midterms—which will scramble everything anyway—the package is at best on indefinite hold.

Democrats, especially the progressives, are vexed. The founder of the Center for American Progress, John Podesta, a former top aide to President Obama, declared that Manchin chose “as his legacy to be the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity.” On Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that his Senate colleague “has sabotaged the president’s agenda.” Sanders pointedly added that he’s been warning people that the sabotage was intentional in part because Manchin’s been in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry all along.

Whatever the merits of this familiar criticism of Manchin may be, one thing is fairly obvious: The critics have his motivations wrong. I’m no mind-reader, but I’m fairly confident that the West Virginia senator doesn’t want to be remembered as the man who doomed humanity. As for wanting to sabotage the president’s agenda, that’s certainly more debatable. But Sanders’ framing obscures the fact that what he really means to say is Manchin is undermining Sanders’ agenda.

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