With a difficult election year approaching, West Virginia's Joe Manchin is blasting the Biden administration for its failure to develop offshore oil and gas. Just months ago, the Senate Democrat voted against a measure forcing the administration to do just that.
During a Tuesday committee hearing, Manchin attacked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for her department's failure to spur offshore oil and gas development, saying the Biden appointee is disregarding "the resources that the good Lord has given us." Last summer, however, the Democrat shot down an amendment to President Joe Biden's so-called Inflation Reduction Act from Louisiana GOP senator John Kennedy that would have required the administration to conduct at least 10 offshore oil and gas lease sales by 2027. Without the amendment, the bill only forced Haaland to issue three offshore lease sales, the last of which will take place in September. Once those sales are complete, Manchin complained Tuesday, Haaland seems to have "no intention of holding any offshore lease sales in 2024."
Manchin's criticism of Haaland comes as the Democrat contemplates whether he'll run for reelection next year in a state that former president Donald Trump carried easily in both 2016 and 2020. While Manchin is considered the only Democrat capable of winning statewide in West Virginia, the two-term senator faces an uphill battle should he enter the race. Manchin already trails the state's Republican governor, Jim Justice, by double digits, a National Journal poll released Wednesday shows. Justice also has more support among West Virginia Democrats than Manchin, an April Morning Consult poll found. Justice launched his Senate campaign last week, promising to "do the job that will make you proud."
Manchin has worked to repair his image in West Virginia by bashing the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, Biden's signature spending bill, which includes $1.2 trillion in green energy subsidies, according to one forecast. But that criticism is undermined by Manchin's role as the bill's "chief architect." Manchin last July secretly negotiated the legislation's terms with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), and he stood beside Biden during the bill signing ceremony a month later. Months later, in February, Manchin heaped praise on the bill, saying he did not regret voting for it "at all."
"The Inflation Reduction Act will be the most transformative bill that we've ever had in the United States, in Congress, as far as I've been here," the Democrat said.
That comment could come back to haunt Manchin as Republicans work to flip control of the Senate in 2024. One Nation, a spending group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), has already spent millions on ads dinging Manchin for his work on the Inflation Reduction Act. One spot, which the group released Wednesday, says Manchin's "deciding vote for Biden's law could cost West Virginia 100,000 fossil fuel jobs."
"The Inflation Reduction Act is bad policy for West Virginia and Joe Manchin was crucial to the law's passage," One Nation president and CEO Steven Law said in a statement. "One Nation will continue to educate West Virginians about the 100,000 jobs which could be lost due to the climate provisions in 'Sen. Manchin's Inflation Reduction Act.'"
A Democratic aide for the Senate Energy Committee—which Manchin chairs—told the Washington Free Beacon that Manchin "wants there to be sales" but prefers to push the administration to "choose a better direction rather than mandating," citing Inflation Reduction Act provisions that tie new offshore wind lease sales to oil and gas lease sales. The aide also noted that some oil and gas lease sales mandated in Kennedy’s amendment overlapped with sales required in the Inflation Reduction Act. Still, the aide acknowledged that the sales mandated in the Kennedy amendment cover a longer period of time than those included in the legislation.
Manchin has a history of swearing off his liberal positions as he faces a tough reelection bid. In 2017, the Democrat repeatedly said he opposed building a wall on the Mexican border. "I'm not for building a wall at all," Manchin claimed in one interview. "It's something I have no interest in," he said in another. One year later, Manchin called it a "flat-out lie" that he opposed the wall, going as far as to demand a conservative group take down an ad that highlighted his past comments.
Should he run for Senate, Manchin will immediately become a top target for Republicans as they work to gain a majority in the upper chamber. West Virginia voted for Trump by a whopping 42 and 39 points in 2016 and 2020, respectively, reflecting the difficulty of Manchin's potential bid for a third term. Manchin has at times acted friendly toward Trump, saying in 2018 that he regretted supporting Hillary Clinton for president and would consider backing Trump in 2020. Two years later, Manchin endorsed Biden for president.