“I don’t know if it has caught up with me,” the New Mexico Democrat told CNN. “We thought we’d get this done in 2009, 2010, and obviously it took another 12 years. I think it’s going to be transformative.”
Scientists have warned for decades that the climate crisis is fueling extreme heat, severe droughts and stronger storms, with the consequences of burning fossil fuels being felt in every corner of the country.
It was through this lens that the vote was personal to many senators, some of whom told CNN they voted with the future of their children and grandchildren first.
“It’s about their lives and whether they’re going to have a planet to grow on,” Tom Carper, chairman 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.”
‘The Earth itself is in danger’
Climate victory is not guaranteed.
“Each near-death experience is as terrifying as the last,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. “I’ve never had so many ups and downs on a piece of legislation. It’s had extraordinary twists and turns, and — the planet itself is in danger.”
“I would say, ‘I need you to help my state,'” recalls Carper. “‘My state is the lowest state in America; my state is sinking.'”
Carper said he told Manchin that while Democrats are committed to helping West Virginia’s coal miners transition to a clean energy economy, Manchin’s vote also needs to help states like Delaware and Louisiana whose coastlines are engulfed by oceans .
Over the course of several weeks, Democrats watched Manchin go from “no” to the face of the bill and defended it in the media.
“Everyone has heard him say that if he can explain it, he can vote for it,” Schatz said. “He finally came up with the bill he was proud of, and then it was like a light switch flipped. He wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming; he was dragging other people, and he was leading the message on this bill.”
On Thursday night, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced she would also support the bill, giving the party the 50 votes it needed.
On Thursday, Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota told CNN that “the influence actually finally hit me for the first time.” “Tears welled up in my eyes and I’m so happy.”
Just a few weeks ago, Smith said she “thought the door was closed. When I realized there was a deal, I couldn’t believe it.”
Big win before midterm
Senate climate hawks told CNN their work is not done, but which way they go next depends on the outcome of November’s midterm elections and whether the party can retain its fragile congressional majority.
But it will also move forward with a controversial natural pipeline project in Virginia and West Virginia that has long been a priority for Manchin. The measure would require a Republican vote to pass the 60-vote threshold, which could complicate matters.
“We always knew there would be some stench,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told CNN Fossil Fuel Measures. Still, Whitehouse conceded that “some of this is something we want”, such as regulations to speed up power transmission licensing.
Climate hawks also plan to put more pressure on the Biden administration to roll out strong regulations and executive action, and some are considering reviving measures Manchin took last year, such as a clean power plan that would lead to more Big cuts in fossil fuel emissions.
For now, they are finally relieved that the climate has achieved a major victory.
“I think this bill will show the power of action,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’s going to be the last thing we do, but it’s going to break the dam of inaction.”