US president Joe Biden's hopes of gaining congressional approval for his sweeping domestic agenda, including climate proposals he is touting in Glasgow, were dealt another setback after a holdout Democratic senator said he had lingering "concerns" about the $1.75 trillion (€1.5 trillion) spending package.
The intervention on Monday from West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin risked undermining confidence in Mr Biden's commitments to world leaders at the climate summit in Scotland, while also slowing momentum for his signature legislation at a pivotal moment in US politics.
Before heading to the G20 summit in Rome and then Cop26 in Glasgow, Mr Biden unveiled scaled-down plans to spend $1.75 trillion over a decade on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening America's social safety net. He described the legislation as a compromise that would satisfy the warring factions in his party, which have been sparring over the size of the Bill for months.
Even after it was watered down from $3.5 trillion by lawmakers including Mr Manchin in recent weeks, the package includes $555 billion in climate-fighting measures such as clean energy subsidies that are essential for the US to meet its emissions-reduction targets.
But Mr Manchin on Monday told reporters he still could not guarantee his backing for the plan. “I am open to supporting a final Bill that helps move our country forward,” he said. “But I am equally open to voting against a Bill that hurts our country.”
Mr Manchin added that lawmakers “must allow time for complete transparency and analysis of the impact of changes to our tax code and energy and climate policies”.
Mr Biden’s most extensive foreign trip as US president is taking place against the backdrop of an increasingly precarious domestic outlook for his party. In addition to struggling to pass the spending Bill, Democrats are facing possible defeat in a key governor’s race this week that they had at one point been expected to win handily.
On Tuesday voters head to the polls in Virginia to elect a new governor in a tight contest between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. The outcome will offer an important early verdict on Mr Biden's party and presidency after a sharp decline in his approval ratings.
Following Mr Manchin's comments on Monday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, quickly released a statement saying the Biden administration continued to "remain confident" in his support.
“Senator Manchin says he is prepared to support a . . . plan that combats inflation, is fiscally responsible and will create jobs,” she said.
Mr Manchin’s backing for the $1.75 trillion plan is crucial because the US Senate is evenly split with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, so the president’s party cannot afford to lose a single vote in the upper chamber of Congress if it is to pass legislation.
It is also pivotal because progressive Democrats on the left of the party have been looking for certainty from Mr Manchin that he will support the Bill in order to give their own backing to a separate bipartisan infrastructure package. That legislation, worth $1.2 trillion and championed by the West Virginia senator, would fund upgrades to roads, bridges and broadband networks.
Democratic leaders had hoped to tie up the loose ends and force a vote on both Bills as soon as Tuesday, ahead of the Virginia governor’s election, but that goal now seems out of reach. The latest polls of the race show the Republican candidate ahead by one point.
After Mr Manchin's comments, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, released a statement saying there was "continued progress" on the legislation. Other Democrats insisted nothing had changed in Mr Manchin's position, suggesting the West Virginia senator was posturing. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021