Manchin: If you want to save the planet, elect more progressives in 2022
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on CNN (screengrab)

Sen. Joe Manchin said Thursday that securing sweeping climate legislation to safeguard the planet for future generations requires electing more progressives—unlike him—in 2022.

The corporate Democrat's assertion came as he announced to a crowd of reporters that his topline number for the broad reconciliation bill is $1.5 trillion—a fraction of the $3.5 trillion demanded by progressive lawmakers for the 10-year Build Back Better plan that includes investments to strengthen the safety net and tackle the climate emergency.

Manchin (D-W.Va.), the Senate's top recipient of fossil fuel industry cash, has pushed his party to water down the reconciliation bill, and he and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have obstructed the package's passage.

The $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill, favored by Manchin and criticized by climate campaigners, is facing a tentative vote in the House on Thursday. But progressives have continued to demand congressional passage of the broader reconcilation bill first, before the bipartisan bill faces a vote.

Although Manchin said that his aim is to "put our children at the front end" with the proposed legislation, he told reporters Thursday that, with regard to progressive priorties included in the reconcilation bill, "the other things they want to do maybe we can do at another time."

To progressives opposed to gutting parts of the reconciliation bill's social and climate investments, Manchin said, "Basically take whatever we aren't able to come to agreement with today and take that on the campaign trail next year and I'm sure that you'll get liberal, progressive Democrats with what they say they want."

"I've never been a liberal in any way," said Manchin, adding that "all we need to do I guess for them to get theirs... is elect more liberals."

Polling has shown the Build Back Better plan is popular nationwide—and both political commentators and progressive activists have warned that not passing the full package could negatively impact Democrats at the ballot box next year.

Activists with Center for Popular Democracy, CASA, and Greenpeace USA targeted Manchin this week over his obstruction of the reconciliation bill, bringing a "flotilla" of kayaks near the senator's yacht in Washington, D.C.

"Congress cannot fall for Big Oil's false choice between a healthy economy and a healthy planet. The truth is with fossil fuels we get neither," said John Noël, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

"Climate-fueled disasters cost the global economy $150 billion in 2019. Fossil fuels killed 8.7 million people globally in 2018," he added, calling the Build Back Better Act "a prime opportunity to kickstart a clean energy future and stop sending billions of our tax dollars to fossil fuel companies."