Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) side deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to enact permitting reform before the end of the year is on life support as Republicans look to deprive the lawmaker of a major victory that could aid his potential 2024 reelection.
Manchin is in discussions with GOP colleagues about striking a deal on permitting reform in the lame-duck session, but Republicans say it faces an uphill path as they view his West Virginia Senate seat as a top pickup opportunity in the next election.
“It’s a heavy lift but we’re still exchanging ideas,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), one of the lead Republican negotiators on permitting reform.
Passing permitting reform legislation before January, or even next year, may depend on whether Manchin runs for a fourth term. Former President Trump won West Virginia with 68.6 percent of the vote two years ago.
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Manchin, who is 75, told The Hill he’s “running every day” but declined to say when he will formally announce his decision on the 2024 election.
He said he expects a tough race if he runs again.
“I’ve never run unopposed. I’ve always been expecting rigorous” competition, he said. “I’m anxious to just watch the fireworks on the Republican primary side. I think there will be a lot of people in [the GOP Senate primary].”
Manchin said he’s going to put himself “in a position to help my state and my country the best I possibly can” but doesn’t plan to make an announcement about his political future anytime soon.
Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said getting the Mountain Valley Pipeline authorized, a key piece of Manchin’s permitting reform bill, would be a big win in West Virginia, where fossil fuel is the “life’s blood” of the state economy.
Manchin is already under attack from likely Republican challengers for voting for the Inflation Reduction Act. Getting permitting reform passed as a reward for that tough vote would give him political cover.
“This is an opportunity to actually win his seat in 2024,” O’Connell said, adding that “it would be political malpractice” to give Manchin a victory on permitting reform.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline would transport natural gas more than 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia and create an estimated 3,700 construction jobs and $1.58 billion in direct spending in West Virginia.
Brian Darling, a Republican strategist and former Senate aide, said “I don’t think Republicans should give Manchin any victories.”
“It would be a big political fumble to let a weak permitting reform bill pass and give Manchin a victory when he’s staring at a very difficult reelection,” he added.
Manchin suffered a setback last week when Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the top-ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said there was “zero chance” of adding permitting reform to the annual defense authorization bill.
But Manchin argues that permitting reform is critical to national defense at a time when the supply of oil from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC-member countries is becoming less reliable.
Saudi Arabia said Monday that OPEC could cut output again to prop up falling oil prices.
“I think all of us agree that we need permitting reform,” Manchin said shortly before the Thanksgiving recess. “We need more pipelines, we need to be able to produce and get product to market.
“This is all about national security, energy independence,” he added. “I’m hoping everyone realizes we need to do something.”
Manchin will continue to play a pivotal role in next year’s Senate, which will be divided 50-50 or 51-49, depending on the outcome of the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff, with Democrats in control of a narrow majority either way due to Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote.
Mike Plante, a West Virginia-based Democratic strategist, said Manchin appears to be gearing up for another Senate run.
“My guess is he may well do that. He’s continued to raise money. When he’s home in the state, he is not phoning it in. He’s all over the place doing all kinds of things — meeting with folks, getting out at events. He certainly hasn’t slowed down any,” he said. “I hope he will run for reelection and if he does, I think he’ll win.”
Manchin reported more than $9 million in cash on hand in his campaign account at the end of September.
Schumer told reporters that he’s still hoping to get at least 10 Republican votes for Manchin’s permitting reform bill as part of the commitment he made in July to secure the West Virginia senator’s vote for a sweeping tax reform, climate spending and prescription drug reform bill.
“As you saw when we tried it last time, there weren’t enough Republican votes. I’m working with Sen. Manchin to see what we can get done,” he said last week.
Manchin agreed to pull his permitting reform proposal off the floor in late September when it became clear we could not muster enough Republican votes to overcome procedural objections to attaching it to a short-term funding bill.
A Senate Republican aide said it would take a “miracle” for Manchin’s bill to pass before January.
“I think it’s kind of a fool’s errand,” said the source, adding that Manchin hasn’t included enough Republican input into the legislation. “I would be shocked if something actually comes out on permitting.”
“[Manchin] is desperately trying to get something done because he made that agreement,” the source said, referring to Manchin’s deal with Schumer to vote for the reconciliation package this summer.
He wasn’t able to include his permitting reform bill in the package, which was protected by special rules from a GOP filibuster, because it could not get the green light from the Senate parliamentarian.
But Manchin emphasized when he announced his deal in July that President Biden, Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had “committed to advancing a suite of commonsense permitting reforms this fall” that would speed up the construction of energy infrastructure.
That deal has now been further complicated by Pelosi’s decision to step down as House Democratic leader. There’s no guarantee her expected successor, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), will uphold the bargain.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, sent a letter to Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Monday asking them “to exclude harmful permitting provisions from must-pass legislation this year.”