Joe Manchin labelled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s characterisation of the senator’s relationships with oil and gas lobbyists as “totally false,” as the Democratic senator from West Virginia defended his opposition to a $3.5 trillion budget bill with measures to combat the climate crisis.
In a post on Twitter on 2 September, the New York congresswoman accused Mr Manchin of holding “weekly huddles” with Exxon lobbyists “and is one of many senators who gives lobbyists their pen to write so-called ‘bipartisan’ fossil fuel bills.”
On Sunday, he denied holding such meetings.
“Absolutely not,” he told CNN. “I keep my door open for everybody. That’s totally false. Those types of superlatives – it’s just awful. Continue to divide, divide, divide.”
The congresswoman’s message followed an op-ed from Mr Manchin, in which he said he would reject the budget bill without first addressing “the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez said she is “sick of this ‘bipartisan’ corruption that masquerades as clear-eyed moderation” and argued that oil and gas influence and dark money groups are “destroying our democracy, country [and] planet.”
“And we’re supposed to entertain lobbyist talking points about why we should abandon people [and] do nothing? No,” she said.
On Sunday, Mr Manchin said: “I don’t know that young lady that well. I really don’t. I have met her one time, I think, between sets here. But that’s it. So we have not had any conversations. She’s just speculating and saying things.”
He said he is simply opposed to the spending bill “because it makes no sense at all.”
When pressed by CNN’s Dana Bash to address criticism that he is “bought and paid for by corporate donors,” he rejected the idea.
“You’re entitled to your … opinions. You’re just not entitled to create your own facts to support it, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” he said.
In remarks captured by Greenpeace and published by Channel 4, a lobbyist for Exxon said he has regular access to the senator and his staff,
Keith McCoy, Exxon’s senior director of federal relations in Washington, called Mr Manchin “the kingmaker” and said “he’s not shy about staking his claim early and completely changing the debate.”
Mr Manchin has also earned more than $4.5m from coal companies he founded in the 1980s and holds stock options in Enersystems Inc – one of the firms he founded – that is valued between $1 and $5m.
He has also worked to defend coal ash – a byproduct produced by burning waste coal – by passing a bill in 2016 making it easier for states to deregulate the toxic material.
A bipartisan infrastructure spending bill – containing measures to support roads and bridges, broadband internet and transit – passed the Senate last month and will be a key vote in the House of Representatives later this month.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are crafting a separate $3.5 trillion budget bill focused on social spending and measures to combat the climate crisis and expand healthcare.
It would require 51 votes in the evenly divided Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote. Republicans are all likely unified in their objection to the measure, and Senator Manchin’s opposition would derail the bill.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the budget committee and is developing the bill, argued that the nation can’t afford to abandon the legislation in the face of compounded crises.
“Working families cannot afford child care for their kids, young people cannot afford to go to college,” he told ABC on Sunday. “And then on top of all of that, the scientific community is telling us that we’re looking at a cataclysmic crisis in terms of climate – Oregon is burning, California is burning.”