Senator Joe Manchin has persistently, indeed defiantly, ignored polling that demonstrates broad support among West Virginians for the provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better legislative agenda.
Regardless of this polling, Manchin has continued to pretend he is fulfilling his role in our representational democracy by serving the interests of his people, when in fact he is blatantly abdicating that senatorial responsibility. In fact, he continues to attribute his unwillingness and inability to support Biden’s Build Back Better Act on his insistence that it will not make sense—that he can’t justify it—to the voters of West Virginia.
He said last Sunday:
“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.”
West Virginians themselves are now speaking out and challenging Manchin’s perfidy, exposing the bad faith of his rhetoric and, presumably, making his position on Build Back Better increasingly untenable.
One key constituency in West Virginia, the coal miners, have come out and pleaded with Manchin to fulfill his role as the senator from West Virginia and actually represent their interests.
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) on Monday urged Manchin to revisit his rejection of the plan, highlighting the inclusion in the bill of two key provisions.
One of the provisions extends a fund that offers benefits to coal miners afflicted with black lung disease. The other, part of implementing a just transition to clean energy to address climate change, establishes tax incentives to encourage companies to build plants and factories in coalfields to employ laid-off coal miners.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts said in his statement:
“For those and other reasons, we are disappointed that the bill will not pass. We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”
Roberts also pointed to another provision in the bill that penalizes companies that deny workers the right and ability to unionize.
Few Americans likely know of this provision or properly appreciate its importance, but it points to the sweeping and transformational content of Build Back Better Act about which Americans need to be better informed.
Roberts highlighted this support of workers’ rights and workplace democracy as a crucial element of the legislation:
“This language is critical to any long-term ability to restore the right to organize in America in the face of ramped-up union-busting by employers. But now there is no path forward for millions of workers to exercise their rights at work.”
It seems that while Manchin doesn’t think he can explain the Build Back Better Act to West Virginians, some of his key constituents, such as the coal miners, sure can explain it to him.
Based on Roberts’ statements, it seems when Manchin goes back home, he will need to do more listening than explaining.
And we’ll see if he intends to represent the interests of his people.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.