By Ali Zaslav, Ted Barrett and Manu Raju, CNN
Several Senate Democrats expressed concerns Monday about Sen. Joe Manchin’s refusal to support key climate change provisions in the sweeping spending and tax package backed by President Joe Biden, with some going as far as warning they may withdraw their support for the package if it significantly weakens the climate proposals.
“I can’t support a bill that does not have a robust climate title,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat. “There’s a lot of different ways to get there. But I can’t support a bill that doesn’t make a meaningful down payment.”
The concerns, echoed by a range of Democratic lawmakers, come after Manchin has refused to budge from his months-long opposition to give $150 billion in new incentives to power plants to use cleaner-burning fuels in a bid to reduce greenhouse emissions up to 52% by 2030.
Democrats are now looking at new alternatives, but it’s unclear how they will achieve their goals — while keeping progressives at bay and not prompting opposition from Manchin of West Virginia, who represents a coal-producing state and whose vote they need to pass a bill.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said on Monday that if Democrats fail to “seriously and meaningfully” address climate change then “shame on us.” But with the top line coming down, he acknowledged it’s clear some items that are important to Democrats won’t make it in.
“Listen, I want a clean energy standard, I want the whole package, but when you reduce the amount from $3.5 trillion, you’re not going to get it all or you’re going to have to do it partially for a few years,” he said.
The Illinois Democrat added that he’s “sorry that Senator Manchin is opposed” to the clean energy program.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said the legislation must include a “substantial climate change provision” for him to support it, but said he’s open to ideas and discussions about what that will look like.
“A substantive major provision of climate change is essential to this bill for my support,” Blumenthal said. Adding: “But I’m open to ideas about what it should be in specifics.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said as of right now he remains optimistic about the status of negotiations and having the package deliver on “the necessary emissions reductions.”
“If we can put together a package that delivers the necessary emissions reductions so that we get on a pathway to safety … then I think we can land this plane,” he said. “And we have plenty of ideas. So at the moment, I’m optimistic.”
He added, however, that “This isn’t something in which, you know, we’re just going to go away and settle for half a loaf.”
Asked if he is not satisfied with what’s agreed to whether he’d still support the package, Whitehouse declined to say, responding that: “Those are private conversations that I’m having with the White House and leadership.”
When Durbin was asked about several members in his caucus, such as Whitehouse, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, saying they need strong climate provisions to support the package, he said, “You just named three people who are probably the most well versed in the Senate on the subject. And if they have an alternative to the clean electricity program, I want to give them a chance to offer that as a substitute, if they have one.”
Other Democrats said they expect some climate-related provision to make it into the bill despite Manchin’s opposition to parts of the proposal.
“If Joe’s position on the clean electric proposal is what it is, I’m very disappointed,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii. “On the other hand, there are other climate provisions in the bill — tax credits and other things — amounting to about $300 billion.”
She acknowledged that Democrats have been aware of Manchin’s concerns for several weeks but held out hope they could change his mind.
“There’s always hope you know,” she said. “The discussions have been ongoing with him, but I don’t know if we’re ready to throw in the towel.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat of Georgia, agreed.
“I think there are a number of ways we are addressing climate provisions, in various ways, in the bill and I think at the end of the day there will be climate provisions in the bill,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said discussions on the climate issue would resume Tuesday when the full Democratic caucus meets for a policy lunch in the Capitol and he stressed that Democrats, now in the majority, understand they must get something done.
“I’m not giving up on it,” he said. “We’ll all be in the same room tomorrow and we’ll talk about it.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said he would not accept that the climate provisions would be nixed from the bill.
“I’m accepting that there are lot of negotiating still to go,” he said.
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