Manchin may try to spearhead an effort to cut a climate deal with the GOP.
"If I can find something bipartisan, we don't need reconciliation," he told Bloomberg.
It could throw a big wrench in Democrats' efforts to salvage their economic agenda.
Congress is back in session and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is putting himself in a familiar place: Near the center of the Democratic agenda.
Alongside Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Manchin convened a meeting on climate initiatives in an effort to see whether a bipartisan deal can be cut with Republicans. NBC News first reported the gathering.
"If I can find something bipartisan, we don't need reconciliation," referring to the legislative strategy Democrats have been using for over a year allowing them to bypass the 60-vote threshold to end a potential filibuster, he told Bloomberg. He later told Capitol Hill reporters that one area of shared interest could be overhauling the federal oil and gas leasing program.
"It's urgent to find out if there is a pathway, if there is anyway that we can find a pathway in a bipartisan, bicameral way," Manchin said.
Sam Runyon, a spokesperson for Manchin, said the meeting "was an effort to gauge bipartisan interest in a path forward that addresses our nation's climate and energy security needs head on."
The gathering included Manchin, Murkowski, Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia, Mark Kelly of Arizona, and GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, per a person familiar with the gathering. At least one Democratic House lawmaker, Rep. Ro Khanna of California, joined as well.
"Passing a bold climate bill is my highest priority," Khanna, a top progressive, said in a statement to Insider. "I was pleased to participate with colleagues on finding a way forward."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the meeting.
The new Manchin-led endeavor to lure Republican votes may throw another wrench in Democrats' efforts to salvage their once-ambitious economic agenda at a critical juncture. Time is running out on the legislative calendar with Congress tackling numerous priorities like emergency assistance for Ukraine, pandemic aid, and potential elections reform.
"I'm all for bipartisanship where we can find it but time is of the essence," Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement to Insider. "We can't wait another decade to pass legislation that averts the worst climate catastrophes."
Wyden was an architect of $500 billion in clean energy tax credits meant to transition the US away from fossil fuels onto wind and solar power. He noted the measures collided into "uniform" Republican resistance.
The development stirred memories of Manchin's effort last year to attract GOP support on voting rights reform. That went nowhere. But the meeting's sole GOP attendee said he believed the group would meet for a second time by week's end.
"No good thing can happen without somebody starting it and so this is a start," Cramer told Insider on Tuesday. "Whether it goes anywhere or not, we'll see."
"We need to do something quickly if it's it's doable," the North Dakota Republican said, adding "it's hard for me to imagine" Republicans back a bipartisan climate bill if reconciliation isn't taken off the table.
Cramer said measures like carbon capture were discussed.
Manchin has voiced support in recent months for a package centered on clean-energy spending, cutting prescription drug prices, and rolling back the 2017 Republican tax cuts. Democrats hope to cut a deal with the holdout on a smaller bill after he said he couldn't support a bigger $2 trillion House bill in December.
Some in the party are pushing to strike an agreement on their priorities by Memorial Day. Before the climate meeting, Warner told Insider he remained "hopeful" about passing a party-line bill.
However, it's unclear whether Manchin will ultimately sign on to anything. He's raised alarm about the potential of a bill to grow the national debt and whether it would aggravate rising prices. Progressives have lambasted Manchin for changing his demands and his refusal to commit to specifics.
He signaled on Tuesday Democrats would have to abandon most, if not all, of their proposed social programs to clinch his pivotal vote. Other initiatives that were once on the table included universal pre-K, which Manchin previously supported.
"These major social changes should go through the process," he told reporters. "That's what the process is for."
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