When President Joe Biden marks the first anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act at the White House next week, one notable guest will likely be missing, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Senator Manchin’s choice to skip the White House event showcasing the climate and health care spending legislation, which he played a major role in crafting and naming, underscores the growing tensions deep between the conservative Democrat and the Biden administration.
Manchin is considering a third-party presidential bid in 2024, which could hurt Biden’s re-election chances. Even without this bold move, Manchin is looking to project more autonomy from the White House, especially as he contemplates another Senate campaign in his predominantly Republican home state. On Thursday, he hinted at a possible switch from the Democratic Party to Independent.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” he shared with a West Virginia radio station.
A recent dinner between Manchin and Steve Ricchetti, one of Biden’s top aides, focused on how Manchin’s decisions could challenge the president. That dinner, which followed the Senate’s August recess, revolved around aligning expectations for the upcoming Senate session, according to people familiar with the dynamic.
Ricchetti remains the primary link between the West Wing and Manchin. Their meetings aim to keep the president informed about potential policy disagreements with Manchin. It remains unclear whether Manchin’s potential third-party execution or party switching was discussed.
Downplaying Manchin’s expected absence from the upcoming event, a senior White House official noted his timing during a congressional recess. However, the contrast is stark compared to a similar event last year, where Manchin was a central figure. In recognition of his pivotal role in enacting the bill, Biden presented him with the ceremonial signature pen.
“We’ll continue to find ways to work together,” the senior official said of the relationship with Manchin, noting that the senator “helped us find a way to thread the needle and get things done.”
However, Manchin expressed concern about the administration’s interpretation of the Inflation Reduction Act. While praising the act, he also vowed to “continue to fight the Biden administration’s relentless efforts to manipulate the law to advance its radical climate agenda at the expense of our energy and fiscal security.”
Biden began a two-week promotional campaign for the Act in Arizona, with Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema, who switched from Democrat to independent in December, spoke before Biden. Both senators, however, have cited “scheduling conflicts” as the reason they missed the White House event.
Republicans are particularly interested in seizing Manchin’s seat in the upcoming election as a strategic move to gain control of the Senate.
Manchin remains the only Democratic statewide elected official in West Virginia, a state that overwhelmingly favored Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who once praised Manchin, has since reversed his position, backing Manchin’s potential challenger, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice.
Addressing his controversial decision to support the Inflation Reduction Act, Manchin chided Biden for his slanted portrayal as “green and clean,” emphasizing the need for energy security.
Ricchetti played a central role in leading the way for legislation with Manchin in 2022. It was Manchin who revived the stalled Build Back Better agenda by negotiating a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer which led to a modified version that could support it. Proudly, he claimed the title, Inflation Reduction Act.
A White House official even announced that the legislation bore his stamp: “we are implementing the Inflation Reduction Act as written, which aligns with many of Senator Manchin’s goals.”
As Manchin tries to further differentiate himself from Biden, his interactions with Ricchetti become increasingly essential, especially with the upcoming presidential campaign in 2024 in mind. This estrangement has led to public disagreements. Manchin has openly criticized some of the decisions of the Biden administration related to the Inflation Reduction Act, especially those related to environmental measures.
“It wasn’t smart to do what I did if I’m strictly doing politics,” Manchin admitted Thursday.
Defending the act’s name in a recent radio conversation, Manchin highlighted its impact on controlling inflation. Later that day, however, Biden expressed a different perspective.
“I wish I hadn’t put it that way,” he said at a fundraiser in Utah, “because it has less to do with reducing inflation than it does with providing alternatives that generate economic growth.”
Senator Manchin could prove to be a serious opponent for Joe Biden in the Democratic primary, given the incumbent president’s unpopularity with the voting public and within his own party. The president is currently grappling with serious scandals, including a classified documents scandal being investigated by special counsel Robert Hur, as well as growing evidence of his involvement in a family business to leverage his political influence by collecting massive payments from ‘foreign actors.
Whether or not Joe Manchin could play spoiler in the Democratic primary, however, remains to be seen, as his career is that of a retail West Virginia politician with no national campaign experience to speak of. Manchin is also considering switching to “independent” instead of Democrat, opening up a more serious potential challenge as a third-party candidate, which could be reminiscent of Ross Perot’s 1992 run.
Conservative law professors resurrect obscure constitutional clause that can be used to bar Trump from presidency
“*” Indicates mandatory fields
OPINION: This article contains comments that reflect the opinion of the author.