Sen. Joe Manchin dismisses criticism and assumes ‘hero and villain’ role

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Sen. Joe Manchin said he paid no attention to criticism or campaign donations when making decisions about what was best for West Virginia.

Sounding somewhat exasperated when asked if the dramatic rise in campaign contributions he’s received from oil and gas interests in recent months influenced his vote, the conservative Democrat said no.

At a roundtable in Charleston on Friday, he said his office’s outsized role in crafting the sweeping economic package signed this week by US President Joe Biden made him the target of “the far left”, environmental activists and the fossil fuel industry. .

“No one in their right mind would go through what I’ve been through with my staff for the past eight months, taking all the bullshit we’ve taken from everyone in the country” if they didn’t do what they believe to be right, he said.

“I can be the hero and the villain in a 24-hour shift,” he said. “At the end of the day, I make no apologies for what I think is right. I’ve always said this – if I can explain that, I can vote. I can accept the criticism that I know comes with those votes. This is part of the game.”

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, offered a key vote needed to pass Democrats’ landmark climate and health care bill in the Senate 50-50. The House used a 220-207 party line vote to pass the legislation, which Biden signed on Tuesday.

The law, which caps prescription drug prices for seniors and expands subsidies to help Americans pay for health insurance, contains billions in clean energy incentives. Largely due to Manchin’s influence, he is also offering renewed support for traditional fuel sources such as coal and natural gas with measures such as subsidies for technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

“I wasn’t sure they would ever agree because my friends on the far left, the environmental community, were totally committed to scattering and basically eliminating the fossils,” Manchin said of the law. .

But Manchin said there was “no way to get rid of the fossils in a short time”.

“You can use it cleaner during your transition, but it’s going to be with us, and you have to do your best with it,” he said. “So I wanted to make sure they understood that.”

On the other side, he said he “has been criticized by all my friends in the coal industry” because they think the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect their interests.

“(They) think for some reason it’s going to be harmful,” said Manchin, whose family owns Enersystems, a coal brokerage firm. “I think it’s basically a way forward so that we can continue to produce the industry, provide the energy that our country needs.”

As part of a deal with Democratic leaders, Manchin proposed a separate slate of laws to speed up federal authorization and make energy projects harder to block under federal law. He also specifically asked that federal agencies “take all necessary steps” to streamline the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project long opposed by environmental activists.

The 303-mile (487-kilometer) pipeline, now largely complete, would transport natural gas drilled from the Appalachian Basin through West Virginia and Virginia. Legal battles delayed completion by nearly four years and doubled the cost of the pipeline, now estimated at $6.6 billion.

This election cycle, Manchin has received more campaign contributions from gas pipeline companies than any other U.S. congressman — contributions that rose from $20,000 in 2020 to $331,910 in 2022, campaign finance records show. compiled by Open Secrets.

On Friday, he said his pipeline defense agenda was to lower the cost to consumers by increasing market size and creating jobs. He insisted campaign money had nothing to do with it.

“I get the cynical part of that. People look at that and say, ‘Well, they’re just taking care of themselves,'” he said. “I’m sorry folks, I have no idea who’s contributing. I don’t watch this, I don’t go out and I don’t advocate for this at all.”

He said lawmakers must “rise above” corporate and party pressure to satisfy their constituents.

“Politics has become a very, very nasty, destructive type of process…both sides are guilty of weaponizing the good of America for the good of the party — both sides, and that’s just not good for our country,” he said.

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