Within the brutal machinations of US politics, Joe Manchin has been elevated to a status of supreme decision-maker, the man who could make or break Joe Biden’s presidency.
Internationally, however, the Democratic senator’s new fame has been received with puzzlement and growing bitterness, as countries already ravaged by the climate crisis brace themselves for the US—history’s largest ever emitter of planet-heating gases—again failing to pass major climate legislation.
For six months, Manchin has refused to support a sweeping bill to lower emissions, stymieing its progress in an evenly split US Senate where Republicans uniformly oppose climate action. Failure to pass the Build Back Better Act risks wounding Biden politically but the ramifications reverberate far beyond Washington, particularly in developing countries increasingly at the mercy of disastrous climate change.
“He’s a villain, he’s a threat to the globe,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, based in Bangladesh. “If you talk to the average citizen in Dhaka, they will know who Joe Manchin is. The level of knowledge of American politics here is absolutely amazing, we know about the filibuster and the Senate and so on.
“What the Americans do or don’t do on climate will impact the world and it’s incredible that this one coal lobbyist is holding things up. It will cause very bad consequences for us in Bangladesh, unfortunately.”
The often tortuous negotiations between Manchin, the White House and Democratic leaders appeared doomed on December 19, when the West Virginia senator said he could not support the $1.75 trillion bill, citing concerns over inflation and the national debt. The latest twist caused anguish to those who see their futures being decided by a previously obscure politician located thousands of miles away.
“I’ve been following the situation closely,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, a low-lying Pacific nation that risks being wiped out by rising sea levels. “We have to halve emissions in this decade and can’t do it without strong, immediate action by the US.”
Stege said the Marshall Islands was already suffering the impacts of the climate crisis and if the US doesn’t slash its emissions “the outcomes for countries like mine are unthinkable.”