The White House spent Saturday trying to tamp down criticism from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) in response to comments President Biden made suggesting that coal’s days as the primary source of energy in America were coming to an end. The public spat between two prominent Democrats comes as the president and other party leaders are crisscrossing the country making their closing arguments before Tuesday’s elections.
While speaking at an event Friday in Carlsbad, Calif., to highlight the Democratic Party’s achievements heading into the midterms, Biden celebrated the passage of the Chips and Science Act by championing new energy technologies and suggested coal plants should be a thing of the past.
“No one is building new coal plants, because they can’t rely on it, even if they have all the coal guaranteed for the rest of their existence of the plant. So it’s going to become a wind generation,” Biden said.
Later, he added: “We’re going to be shutting these plants down all across America and having wind and solar.”
That prompted a rebuke from Manchin, who on Saturday called the comments “outrageous and divorced from reality.”
Manchin, who represents a coal-producing state, said “comments like these are the reason the American people are losing trust in President Biden.”
“It seems his positions change depending on the audience and the politics of the day,” Manchin added. “Politicizing our nation’s energy policies would only bring higher prices and more pain for the American people.”
In an evenly divided Senate, key parts of Biden’s agenda have often succeeded or failed on Manchin’s leaning. The senator almost single-handedly put the brakes on Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a $2 trillion social spending package.
Manchin said Biden owes an apology to coal workers.
“Being cavalier about the loss of coal jobs for men and women in West Virginia and across the country who literally put their lives on the line to help build and power this country is offensive and disgusting,” the senator said.
Soon after, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a conciliatory statement.
“President Biden knows that the men and women of coal country built this nation: they powered its steel mills and factories, kept its homes and schools and offices warm,” Jean-Pierre said. “They made this the most productive and powerful nation on Earth.”
Jean-Pierre said Saturday that Biden’s words were manipulated to cause harm, noting that the president has no desire to put more Americans out of work. The unemployment rate has dropped below 4 percent since Biden took office, she mentioned, while pointing out that it was 6.2 percent in the last month before the president entered the White House.
“The President’s remarks yesterday have been twisted to suggest a meaning that was not intended; he regrets it if anyone hearing these remarks took offense,” Jean-Pierre said. “The President was commenting on a fact of economics and technology: as it has been from its earliest days as an energy superpower, America is once again in the midst of an energy transition.”