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Joe Manchin's motto, "don't get mad get even". Got double-crossed by his own party. He's mad.

Joe Manchin, Unleashed

Democrats betrayed the West Virginian. That could end up costing them dearly.

Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ

May 4, 2023 6:28 pm ET


Joe Manchin questions Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, May 2. PHOTO: TOM WILLIAMS/ZUMA PRESS

President Biden is taking some knocks to his agenda, but don’t go pointing fingers at House Republicans. The White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are learning the hard way that there are consequences to double-crossing one of their own.


Sen. Joe Manchin is a man scorned—and living up to the adage about women. He thrilled Democrats last summer when he finally agreed to greenlight a huge chunk of the Biden agenda, signing off on the misguided (and mistitled) Inflation Reduction Act. His thanks has been for his Senate brethren to deny him the permitting reform he was promised, and for the White House to undercut brazenly key provisions he wrote into the bill. While the betrayal might have been predictable, it apparently hasn’t made it any more palatable for the West Virginian.


Mr. Manchin this week helped pass a Senate resolution under the Congressional Review Act rebuking Mr. Biden’s solar tariff policy, and another overturning the administration’s endangered-species listing of the lesser prairie chicken. Last week he voted with Republicans to rescind a Biden regulation on emissions for heavy-duty trucks. This followed votes to kill the administration’s Waters of the United States rule, to nix its proposal to inject climate criteria into 401(k) investments, and to end the pandemic national emergency order.


Mr. Biden has vetoed most of these or will, and Mr. Manchin’s power as a swing vote may wane if or when California Sen. Dianne Feinstein returns after a prolonged illness. Still, Mr. Schumer and the president must find it a bit embarrassing that the majority of what this Democratic Senate has passed this year has been aimed at dismantling the Biden agenda.


Anybody remember Richard Glick? He was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until Mr. Manchin, head of the Energy and Commerce Committee, refused to hold a hearing on his renomination. The same fate has hit Laura Daniel-Davis, Mr. Biden’s pick for assistant interior secretary. Democrats still don’t have a majority on the Federal Communications Commission, after the West Virginian torpedoed Biden nominee Gigi Sohn. He also voted against International Revenue Service Commissioner Danny Werfel and Treasury Deputy Undersecretary Brent Neiman, who obtained their posts only thanks to GOP support. It’s not a good time to be Mr. Biden’s nominee to the Labor Department, Julie Su.


“Y’all broke the law,” Mr. Manchin bluntly schooled Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, at a recent hearing at which he excoriated the administration for ignoring the clear text he put in last year’s bill tying electric-vehicle subsidies to where components are sourced. He’s accused the Biden team of “lying to Americans,” threatened to sue Treasury over the rules, or even to vote to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act (though it’s a bit late for that now).


And here comes the debt-ceiling fight, in which Mr. Manchin continues to beat on the White House for its refusal to negotiate, and to make appreciative noises about the recent House GOP spending-cut package. Assuming some sort of deal is made, Mr. Manchin will be central to any final Senate vote. That would surely be a moment when Mr. Schumer would prefer to have all of his Democratic senators working with him—not against him. Too late now.


The mystery is that Democrats didn’t see the potential for such an outcome and take more care to avoid it. It isn’t only that Mr. Manchin has already proved adept at using this narrowly divided Senate to further his priorities. It’s also the calendar. There’s a Senate race in deep-red West Virginia next year, and Republicans are already lining up to take a shot at the incumbent. This week Gov. Jim Justice threw his hat in the ring.


This gives Mr. Manchin an added incentive to distance himself from a White House and Democratic Party that is deeply unpopular in a state that voted 69% for Donald Trump in 2020. Especially given how his popularity tanked in the state after last year’s vote for a deal he now regrets. He’d likely be taking some of these shots in any scenario, but Democrats are making it much easier. To think what headaches they might have avoided had they simply chosen to do what everyone else in the country is expected to do: follow the law.


Instead, they now have to wonder what more Mr. Manchin might do. The senator has said he won’t make a decision about re-election until late this year—leaving Democrats hanging as to whether he’ll take their only real shot at holding the seat. And if he doesn’t? He has pointedly refused on several occasions to rule out a presidential run, whether as an independent (potentially on a No Labels ticket) or as a primary challenger to Mr. Biden.


Both would be long shots, and Mr. Manchin has never presented himself as a kamikaze. But there’s no telling what a truly frustrated politician might do—especially in today’s crazy political times. Democrats have created one very unhappy senator.


Write to kim@wsj.com.

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