McConnell is urging Senate Republicans to vote no on advancing Manchin's permitting reform legislation as part of a government funding package, according to three people familiar with the effort. It's an ominous development that puts the West Virginia Democrat's legislation in peril as he works behind the scenes to drum up support.
The GOP leader is whipping his members to vote against advancing an effort on Tuesday that would eventually combine a short-term government funding package with the energy permitting legislation. Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hope to tie the two pieces of legislation and send them over to the House, allowing Manchin's legislation to ride along the must-pass legislation. Government funding runs out Friday at midnight.
Republicans may have other plans. Manchin needs probably a dozen of the 50 GOP senators to back his effort, due in part to potential opposition from a handful of Democratic senators. That means McConnell can only afford a handful of defections if he intends to block Democrats' efforts to pass the two bills together this week.
If the two are separated, Manchin's chances of clearing his permitting bill on its own are slim.
McConnell has at times collaborated with Democrats on bipartisan legislation this term, a surprising development after his reputation for stopping former President Barack Obama's agenda. He's also praised Manchin for stopping a larger spending bill last year and standing against changing the filibuster.
He sees no need to help Manchin, however, after the Democratic centrist signed off on the party's tax, climate and health care bill over the summer.
The permitting reform piece did not fit in Democrats' party-line legislation, so Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to bring it to a vote later as a condition of Manchin's support for the broader bill. Most importantly, it now needs 60 votes to advance past the first procedural hurdle on Tuesday. That's hard to get if McConnell opposes it.
McConnell said last week Manchin and other Democrats should get on board with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's (R-W.Va.) version of permitting legislation or else "it would appear the senior senator from West Virginia traded his vote on a massive liberal boondoggle in exchange for nothing."
McConnell and other Republicans say that Manchin's bill is not strong enough to actually move the Biden administration on permitting. Capito's bill would bypass some environmental regulations and does not focus on clean energy projects like Manchin's does. On Monday, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Manchin's "bill still looks deficient to me."
"If [Manchin's] Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 was the horrific bill Leader McConnell claims it is, he wouldn't have to work so hard to whip his conference against it," said a Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. Manchin has said he believes this is the best chance to pass an effort Republicans have talked about for years, but did not execute when they had unified control of government.
McConnell usually prevails once he begins leaning on his members to block something - particularly if it might help Manchin get reelected in 2024, should he run for another term. Manchin said on Sunday, however, that he thinks he still might be able to put the votes together.
"We try to take everyone's input on this and my Republican friends' input is in this piece of legislation," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm very optimistic that we have the opportunity, they realize this opportunity."
Manchin enjoys close relationships with many Senate Republicans, though some of them have been loudly complaining about his vote for Democrats' party-line package. McConnell labored to oust Manchin in 2018 in deep-red West Virginia, but Manchin won reelection. Since, Republicans have unsuccessfully sought to get Manchin to join their conference, though the moderate has declined and maintained his affiliation with the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, a growing chorus of Senate liberals is pushing Schumer to separate the energy permitting package from the stopgap spending bill, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he'll reject the temporary funding patch outright if the permitting provisions are included.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is another vote senators are watching. He argues that he was never consulted on Manchin's Mountain Valley Pipeline, more than 100 miles of which would run through his own state. Kaine stopped short of saying he would reject the government funding bill if it includes Manchin's package, however.
"All I have said is, I am deeply opposed to the MVP provision, and frankly I think it would open a door that we do not want to open," Kaine said on Thursday. "I'm not a threat-style person. Let me tell you where I am. Let me tell you what I think about this. Can we solve it?"
The stopgap spending bill, which would keep the government open through mid-December, will likely include at least $12 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, money for the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., cash for resettling Afghan refugees, heating assistance for low-income families and a five-year reauthorization of the FDA's user fee programs.
Josh Siegel contributed to this report.