Jul 18, 2022

Joe Manchin's decision.

Joe Manchin's decision.

Is this the end of Biden's climate agenda?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Joe Manchin bails on Build Back Better (again). What it means, and what people are saying. Plus, an important story about the border and a chance to submit a question.

Joe Manchin speaking at Inside Politics press day. Image: Third Way Think Tank
Joe Manchin speaking at Inside Politics press day. Image: Third Way Think Tank

Quick hits.

  1. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon's trial on contempt of Congress charges begins today. (The charges)
  2. Mexican marines say they captured fugitive drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero in western Mexico on Friday, ending a nine-year manhunt. (The capture)
  3. The number of Monkeypox cases in the U.S. has surpassed 1,800, with infections reported in 43 states and Washington D.C. (The count)
  4. A Texas House committee investigating the Uvalde shooting released a damning report indicating nearly 400 officers were on hand but egregiously poor communication and decision-making delayed confrontation with the shooter. (The report)
  5. Ivana Trump, the first wife of former President Donald Trump and mother to Ivanka, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, died at the age of 73 after a fall in her home. (The death)
  6. President Biden concluded his first Middle East trip after meeting with leaders of nine Arab countries. Biden says he confronted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman over the killing of reporter Jamal Khashoggi. (The visit)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

Joe Manchin. On Thursday, the West Virginia senator told Democratic leaders that he was not going to back a new economic package that included spending on climate change and an increase in taxes on corporations and the wealthy. The news came after reports that negotiations had looked promising and was a major blow to party leaders who were hoping to pass a critical element of their agenda before the midterm elections in the fall.

Previously, Manchin had been at the center of sinking the party's signature $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, which President Biden endorsed and Manchin refused to vote for. Democrats had already given up on paid family and medical leave, free prekindergarten, and tax benefits to low-income Americans in order to court Manchin on a slimmed down version of the bill. In recent weeks, party leaders believed they were close on a bill that would raise $1 trillion in tax revenue and spend $500 billion on reducing carbon emissions and other tax incentives. Manchin said he could no longer support the legislation until he sees the latest inflation numbers, which are set to be released in mid-August.

“Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation soars to 9.1 percent,” Sam Runyon, Manchin's spokesperson, said. “Senator Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, reevaluate and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire.”

While Manchin said he wasn't ready to move forward on a smaller Build Back Better, he did indicate he would support provisions to empower the government to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare recipients and extend tax subsidies to reduce insurance costs for Americans who buy coverage through state and national exchanges.

Democrats involved in the negotiations expressed shock and anger toward Manchin. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had been negotiating tax credits to spur clean energy and incentives to encourage electric vehicles.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat my disappointment here, especially since nearly all issues in the climate and energy space had been resolved,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR.), who helped craft parts of the package, told The Washington Post. “This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic — and costly — effects of climate change... We can’t come back in another decade and forestall hundreds of billions — if not trillions — in economic damage and undo the inevitable human toll.”

On Friday, Manchin appeared to temper his comments by emphasizing he was still open to a deal but wanted to see July's inflation numbers first.

Below, we're going to take a look at some reactions to the most recent news from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is deeply critical of Manchin for sinking Biden's agenda.
  • Some call out his ties to the coal industry and wealthy donors.
  • Others say he cost Democrats their window on climate change.

In The Washington Post, Greg Sargent said this will only surprise people who haven't been paying attention.

"As ludicrous as this turnaround is on its face, there are still more hidden absurdities behind the situation that show what a farce it has truly become," Sargent wrote. "They turn on the specifics of what Manchin appeared to reject, and his inflation-related excuse for doing so, which amount to a display of towering bad faith… The deal would have raised around $1 trillion in revenue from rolling back some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts. Half of that revenue would have gone to deficit reduction, and the other half would have gone mostly to funding the transition to green energy... Regardless, how Manchin reached this point is hard to discern. As The Post reports, he has long supported tax reforms such as those being debated, yet he seemingly backed away from them, including a measure to close a loophole enjoyed by the very wealthy to sustain Medicare.

"What’s more, Manchin is still reportedly telling people he wants to secure a few hundred billion dollars in deficit reduction. How he would do this without raising high-end taxes is unclear," he wrote. "Manchin’s turnaround floored those working on that text, given what had been happening only hours earlier," Sargent wrote. "And how much would the package offered to Manchin actually increase inflation? Economist Dean Baker notes that half would go to deficit reduction, which Manchin wants, and the nixing of incentives for electrical vehicles removes another spending piece. What’s more, Baker says, spending on ACA subsidies would be offset by less spending on prescription drugs. 'It’s basically impossible to see how that would be inflationary,' Baker tells me."

In The New York Times, Dr. Leah Stokes said "it’s now clear that Mr. Manchin has wasted what little time this Congress had left to make real progress on the climate crisis."

"By stringing his colleagues along, Mr. Manchin didn’t just waste legislators’ time. He also delayed crucial regulations that would cut carbon pollution. Wary of upsetting the delicate negotiations, the Biden administration has held back on using the full force of its executive authority on climate over the past 18 months, likely in hopes of securing legislation first," Stokes wrote. "The stakes of delay could not be higher. Last summer, while the climate negotiations dragged on, record-breaking heat waves killed hundreds of Americans. Hurricanes, wildfires and floods pummeled the country from coast to coast. Over the last 10 years, the largest climate and weather disasters have cost Americans more than a trillion dollars — far more than the Democrats had hoped to spend to stop the climate crisis. With each year we delay, the climate impacts keep growing. We do not have another month, let alone another year or decade, to wait for Mr. Manchin to negotiate in good faith.

"Mr. Manchin’s refusal to agree to climate investments will hurt the economy he claims he wants to protect," she said. "The package would have built domestic manufacturing, supporting more than 750,000 climate jobs annually. It would have also fought inflation, helping to make energy bills more affordable for everyday Americans. This is particularly ironic since Mr. Manchin said inflation was the chief reason he was uncomfortable with supporting tax incentives for clean energy right now. Over the past year, Mr. Manchin has taken more money from the oil and gas industry than any other member of Congress — including every Republican — according to federal filings. A Times investigation found that he also personally profited from coal, making roughly $5 million between 2010 and 2020 — about three times his Senate salary. Coal has made Mr. Manchin a millionaire, even as it has poisoned the air his own constituents in West Virginia breathe."

The Register-Herald (West Virginia) editorial board said "we should keep in mind that the senior U.S. senator from West Virginia is stuffing wads of cash into his own pockets from fossil fuel interests."

"At this point, it is the only explanation that makes sense of why he can’t bring himself to do the right thing for the good of Mother Earth and the global village," the board said. "Yes, Manchin is chalking up handsome profits made in an ugly family venture of processing and burning a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as 'gob' – garbage of bituminous – that mining companies typically cast aside but can be sold and burned to produce electricity. And that is exactly what the Manchin family business does. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Manchin family profits from an enterprise that is killing the planet – literally.

"That President Biden and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ever thought they could pull Manchin over the line to vote 'yes' on electric cars, well, God bless them, but they showed an embarrassing degree of willful ignorance of what motivates Joe," the board added. "Of course he’s never, ever going to get on board with climate change policies that would upset too many people from the fossil fuel state of West Virginia and, simultaneously, derail his own gravy train – even as the planet turns and burns, inevitably and inexorably now, toward a global warming reckoning that will have devastating consequences for future generations. For now, Manchin has a perfect straw man. Inflation is the root of all evil in the U.S. economy, and we cannot pass any policy that pumps more money into the private sector..."

What the right is saying.

  • The right says Joe Biden does not have the mandate he thinks he does, and credits Manchin for stepping back.
  • Some say the economy is in too perilous a position for another huge piece of legislation.
  • Others argue the climate change bill was as partisan as it could be.

In National Review, Kevin Williamson said "Joe Manchin didn't kill the Democrats' climate agenda."

"Chuck Schumer’s inability to do his job did that," Williamson wrote. "The Democrats’ plan is a dead letter because 49 senators support it and 51 senators oppose it.... The combination of green moralism with green corporatism (an unlovely and destructive feature of European politics, particularly in Germany) is defective for several reasons: It is fundamentally corrupt, as all similar corporatist enterprises are; it transforms a question of roughly quantifiable tradeoffs into an absolutist moral contest in which compromise is difficult or impossible; and — perhaps this still counts for something! — it prevents making any meaningful positive reform to environmental policy. We know what a serious climate-change policy would look like: It would account for externalities and minimize market distortions in such a way as to enable the switch to very low-emissions energy sources (nuclear power) and relatively low-emissions energy sources (natural gas) in the sector where doing so would be relatively easy (electric utilities), and thus mitigate the pain of the same transition in the less tractable sectors (transportation and agriculture), creating a large, economically and politically sustainable improvement in total emissions.

"It is really quite something to see Democrats raking Joe Manchin over the coals for his supposed environmental apostasy while President Joe Biden is on his elbows and knees in Riyadh begging the ghastly and murderous Saudi crown prince to ramp up oil drilling in his kingdom — where local environmental standards governing energy production are rather lower than they are in Pennsylvania. The Democrats’ climate agenda is not on ice because of Joe Manchin — it is on ice because it is not a very good agenda," he wrote. "The Democrats don’t need a program that can command the support of one coal-state Democrat but one that can win the cooperation of ten or twelve Republicans — Republicans who may not share progressive views on climate change but who might like to see gas-producing U.S. states increase their export markets, and might also like to see their constituents’ energy prices and energy-grid reliability brought to a more desirable condition by clean, reliable, safe, modern nuclear energy — which is, if we are being honest about it, the only practical and sufficient source of electricity that is in fact operationally zero-emissions."

In The Washington Examiner, David Freddoso said not to blame Manchin for Joe Biden's lack of a mandate.

"It would be an act of cruelty to Biden to enact his agenda at this point," Freddoso wrote. “The last thing the economy needs at a time of 9% inflation is another multitrillion-dollar spending package financed by borrowing. The last thing it needs is even higher energy prices thanks to fantasy-land energy policies of the environmental Left. Either of these supposed accomplishments would surely cost Biden his majorities in both houses of Congress, to say nothing of his party's fortunes down-ballot. But beyond that, it's also wrongheaded to focus on Manchin as the culprit for Biden's failures... First of all, depending on which agenda item we're discussing, there are 51 or 52 senators who oppose Biden's agenda, not just one. That is not Manchin's fault, it is the fault of President Biden's narrow, no-coattails victory in November 2020.

"That same day, Democrats actually lost ground in state-level elections, dropping two state legislative chambers and one governorship. Democrats in the U.S. House saw their comfortable 36-seat majority shrink down to an uncomfortable nine-seat edge. As for the Senate, only Georgia's peculiar general election runoff rules saved Biden by allowing Jon Ossoff to win a seat in January instead of losing it in November. This is how Biden, by the skin of his fingernails, obtained the current 50-50 Senate tie, which Biden's vice president can break in party-line votes," he wrote. "Biden is now the most unpopular president in history precisely because he ignored this. He arrogantly behaves now as if he won a clear mandate in 2020 to make enormous changes. He jumped to impose environmentalist restrictions on fossil fuels; he has signed massive spending increases, causing devastating inflation; he has proposed further spending increases; he has proposed massive tax increases."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said Manchin was right to turn down what would have been a tax increase for Americans.

"Our guess is that more than a few Democrats are secretly pleased as they near a fateful date with the voters in November. They simply won’t say it out loud the way Mr. Manchin does," the board said. "Republicans asked the [Joint Committee on Taxation] to estimate the federal tax impact of the House’s Build Back Better bill revenue provisions, sans social spending (e.g., Affordable Care Act premium and child tax credits). The bill also raises the state-and-local tax deduction limit to $80,000 from $10,000 today. This is more or less the tax deal Mr. Schumer is trying to sell as part of Build Back Lighter. The JCT analyses include sundry green energy tax credits along with tax increases such as a 15% minimum tax on corporate book income over $1 billion; 5% surtax on income over $10 million and 8% over $25 million; 1% surtax on corporate stock buybacks; 3.8% “net investment income tax” on pass-through income over $400,000; and a limit on the losses that small businesses can deduct from taxes.

"According to JCT’s first report, taxpayers would pay $31 billion more next year in federal tax and $150 billion in 2031 as the tax increases are phased in and some green energy tax credits are phased out. Taxpayers across the income spectrum would be hit. In 2023, those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 would pay $5.2 billion more. Over the 10-year budget window, about 30% of the revenue raised would come from Americans earning less than $400,000 per year," it added. "JCT’s second analysis shows that more than a quarter of Americans earning between $75,000 and $100,000 would pay more in tax next year, as would more than half of Americans earning between $100,000 and $200,000. The tax increase would be a few hundred dollars for many, but some could pay thousands of dollars more. Didn’t President Biden promise not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000? Read between his lips."

My take.

There are two ways to tell this story.

The first is that progressives got screwed, and they knew they were going to get screwed, and future generations may suffer a great deal because of it. Remember, this entire summer squeeze originated when party leadership decided to unlink Biden's infrastructure deal from the Build Back Better program, which progressives said would lead to this moment and which Democratic leadership assured them was an overblown fear. Here is what I wrote in November, when Biden passed the infrastructure bill:

The larger Build Back Better plan is now in a vacuum, and progressives won't be able to threaten sinking the must-have infrastructure bill when they don't get everything they want. It's already been cut in half, and we'll see what else gets whittled down (or out) in the coming weeks. Progressives said they wouldn't vote on this infrastructure bill without a vote on BBB. Then 90% of them did. As Matt Lewis wrote above, it's hard to see that as anything but a cave.

That "cave" came with lots of hand wringing and warnings that this moment would come, too: That Manchin, his pockets lined by Big Oil and rich Republican donors, would never move on significant action to combat climate change or increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Given that this all started with Democratic hopes of creating a permanent child tax credit, passing free pre-k, free community college for two years, 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family leave, fees for polluters, Medicare expansion and the lowering of prescription drugs, it's easy to frame this as an incredible, Manchin-induced failure of Biden's agenda.

The second way to tell the story is that Democrats never really had the votes — and never really tried to court the ones they needed. After barely winning control of the Senate, Biden promised to fundamentally reshape American life in a way that was always unlikely given his lack of tangible political power. Far from being solely "Manchin's fault," Democrats failed to pass a version of Build Back Better because they failed to create legislation that could garner even a single Republican senator's vote.

Worse yet, they are trying to pass a $1 trillion bill that would raise taxes on corporations at a time when inflation is soaring, real wages are falling and Americans are pessimistic about the economy. However unfair it may seem, such tax increases could be passed onto consumers or lead to layoffs and some of them, as The Wall Street Journal laid out, could hit the paychecks of middle class Americans down the road. Manchin is right to press pause on the idea not just because he represents a state with heavy coal interests, but because Democrats also need to be more confident another major piece of legislation won’t further disrupt our already tenuous economic position. It’s certainly possible Manchin really wanted a deal and was spooked by the latest inflation report — nobody except Manchin can say his true motivations.

On top of all that, Manchin has said he is still open to legislation that would allow the government to negotiate down drug prices and then to extend Affordable Care Act subsidies which could expire next month. He may even come back to the table on climate change regulation if Democrats get some good signals this month, which would be another opportunity for Democrats to craft a bill that (however unlikely) may earn the favor of a few Republicans. Even if Democrats don’t believe that, they have little other option but to hope for it.

Those are the two tales.

And I actually don't see why they can't co-exist. Progressives did get screwed, and Manchin is in the pocket of Big Oil. The lack of serious climate action is a frightening prospect, but Democrats never had the mandate for Build Back Better and misstepped by focusing so much on winning over one senator who was never going to come to their side anyway. And, yes, it is a perilous time to be passing a $1 trillion piece of legislation given the current state of the economy. Everybody’s right about something.

To me personally, the biggest disappointments in this whole debacle are the losses of: one, any sweeping legislation to address the very real threat of climate change; and two, the chance to permanently extend the child tax credit, which I think is good legislation. But I can see that the latter would be irresponsible to pass right now — we simply should not inject more government money into people's pockets in this economic moment — even if I hope Democrats return to it once the pandemic-induced inflation recedes.

On climate change, I think Kevin Williamson is onto something about Democrats' inability to produce a piece of legislation that could have won over one or two Republicans. Perhaps it was always foolish to focus on winning over Manchin. But I also think it's a bit absurd to blame Democrats for a lack of climate action when they have made it a critical part of their platform for over a decade, while merely a few congressional Republicans have only recently begun to concede it is an issue that needs addressing. There are a number of popular climate provisions Americans want and Congress should go after: Massive tree-planting programs, tax credits for carbon capture or storage, transitioning power companies to more renewable energy sources, and taxing corporations based on carbon emissions.

And as awful as inflation has been, and as bad as Biden's poll numbers are, if he can actually get Manchin on board with legislation to lower prescription drug prices and extend ACA subsidies, he'll have a few solid wins to boast about that should make Democrats happy heading into the midterms. An infrastructure bill, a gun control bill, Covid-19 relief, a liberal Supreme Court justice, billions of dollars of student debt relief, the rallying of global allies to defend Ukraine and — however chaotic — a widely supported withdrawal from Afghanistan. Those are all real wins for the Democratic base, however many headline failures there were.

That may not be what progressives dreamt of two years ago, but there's also a framing where it's not so bad, given how little room for error (as evidenced by Manchin) Biden actually had. Whether they can sell that story to the progressive base is another thing.

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Your questions, answered.

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A story that matters.

Last week, President Biden secured a promise from Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to fund $1.5 billion of infrastructure at the border to improve processing and security. The money will go toward a host of new construction projects to improve screening at a time when a record number of migrants are crossing the border each month. Officials say the exact details of the project are still being worked out, but there will not be any new wall or barrier. Instead, they hope to "modernize" ports of entry and enhance the screening process. Fox News has the story of how Biden is hoping to work with Lopez Obrador on border crossings, drug smuggling interdiction and more.


  • 65%. The percentage of Americans who say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change, according to a June 2020 survey.
  • 90%. The percentage of U.S. adults who favor planting a trillion trees to absorb carbon emissions, according to a July 2022 survey.
  • 79%. The percentage who favor providing a tax credit to businesses for developing carbon capture/storage.
  • 72%. The percentage who favor requiring power companies to use more energy from renewable sources.
  • 68%. The percentage who favor taxing corporations based on their carbon emissions.
  • 49-47. The percentage of Americans who say Biden's climate agenda is heading in the right-wrong direction, according to a July 2022 poll.

Have a nice day.

A famous YouTuber with 1.8 million followers just pulled off one of the more epic viral good deeds in recent memory. Hope Allen, also known as HopeScope, made a callout on her YouTube page for followers who had recently lost valuable possessions while traveling. Then, with the help of another YouTuber well known as a treasure hunter, she went on a quest to find and claim people’s lost luggage. When that proved harder than they thought, they ended up scouring websites that sell unclaimed baggage and buying back similar or identical products for them. Business Insider has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.