“I don’t know if it’s caught up with me at all,” the New Mexico Democrat told CNN. “We thought we would get this done in 2009, and of course it took another 12 years. I think it will be a transformation.”
Scientists have been warning for decades that the climate crisis is leading to extreme heat, intense drought and stronger storms, and the effects of burning fossil fuels are being felt in every corner of the country.
It was through that lens that this vote was personal to many senators, some of whom told CNN they voted with the future of their children and grandchildren in the back of their minds.
“This is about their lives and whether they will have a planet to grow up in,” Tom Carper, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told CNN.
The Delaware Democrat added, “Do they have a future? Do their children have a future? It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
‘The planet itself is at stake’
Climate victory was not guaranteed.
“Each near-death experience felt just as scary as the last,” said Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz. “I’ve never had so many ups and downs with a single piece of legislation. It had an unusual number of twists and turns, but also – the planet itself is at stake.”
“I’d say, ‘I need you to help my state,'” Carper said. “‘My state is the lowest state in America; my state is sinking.'”
Carper told Manchin that while Democrats were determined to help West Virginia miners transition to a clean energy economy, Manchin’s vote was also needed to help states like Delaware and Louisiana, where the coastlines are being swallowed up by the ocean.
Over the course of a few weeks, Democrats watched as Manchin went from “no” to become the face of the bill and championed it in the press.
“Everyone has heard him say that if he can explain it, he can vote for it,” Schatz said. “He finally came up with a bill that he’s proud of, and then it’s like turning on a light switch. He’s not being dragged along kicking and screaming; he’s dragging everyone along and he’s leading the messages on this bill.”
On Thursday night, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced that she would also support the bill, giving the party the 50 votes it needed.
“The impact of this finally hit me for the first time,” Minnesota Senator Tina Smith told CNN on Thursday. “Tears welled up in my eyes; I was so happy.”
Just a few weeks earlier, Smith said she “thought the door was pretty much closed. When I realized there was an agreement, I literally couldn’t believe it.”
A big win for the midterms
Senate climate hawks told CNN their work isn’t done yet, but which path they take next depends on the outcome of the November midterm elections and whether the party can maintain its fragile congressional majorities.
But it would also promote a controversial natural pipeline project in Virginia and West Virginia, which has long been a priority for Manchin. That measure would require Republican votes to pass the 60-vote threshold, which could complicate matters.
“We always knew there would be some stinkers,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told CNN about the fossil fuel measures. Still, Whitehouse admitted, “we’ll want some of that,” such as the provisions to speed up permitting electric transmission.
Climate hawks also plan to put more pressure on the Biden administration to roll out tough regulations and executive measures, and some are considering an attempt to revive the measures that killed Manchin last year, such as a clean-up program. electricity that would lead to even greater cuts in fossil fuel emissions.
For now, they’re relieved to finally have a major climate victory.
“I think this bill will show the power of action,” Smith said. “I don’t think this is the last thing we do, but it will break the barrier of passivity.”