Biden exposed an energy rift in the Democratic Party days before the midterm elections, and energy is an issue that could endanger their candidates in key races that will decide which party controls Congress next year.
“The president’s words, we believe, were twisted,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at Monday’s briefing. “Anyone who knows President Biden knows he comes from coal country, from Scranton, Pennsylvania.”
Biden elicited a strong backlash from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) when he said coal plants would be shut down.
“We’re going to be shutting these plants down all across America and having wind and solar also providing tax credits to help families buy energy-efficient appliances,” Biden said.
Manchin blasted Biden’s comments as “not only outrageous and divorced from reality, they ignore the severe economic pain the American people are feeling because of rising energy costs.”
“No more drilling,” Biden also said when pressed by a New York rally attendee on drilling on federal land and in federal waters. This runs counter to the White House’s messaging on energy production, including his claim that oil companies should be drilling more when discussing the need to lower gas prices.
Jean-Pierre said Monday that Biden was referring to new drilling in the Arctic opened up by the Trump administration.
“There is no shortage for these companies to produce oil here in the United States,” she said in response to a question from the Washington Examiner. “They’re sitting on 9,000 — you’ve heard us talk about this — unused approved drilling permits.”
Both the coal and drilling comments have the potential to cause problems for Democrats in the final hours before Tuesday’s elections.
Gas prices are also a huge driver of discontent with the Democrats ahead of an election in which the GOP is heavily favored to win back control of at least one house of Congress.
The White House went into clean-up mode over Biden’s comments before the weekend was out, emphasizing there would be a process of transition toward a greener economy.
“Under President Biden, oil and natural gas production has increased, and we are on track to hit the highest production in our country’s history next year,” Jean-Pierre tweeted on Saturday. “He is determined to make sure that this transition helps all Americans in all parts of the country, with more jobs and better opportunities; it’s a commitment he has advanced since Day One. No one will be left behind.”
She said Biden “knows that the men and women of coal country built this nation: they powered its steel mills and factories, kept its homes and schools and offices warm. They made this the most productive and powerful nation on Earth.”
Biden won the presidency by flipping several Rust Belt states that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 back into the Democratic column two years ago. Some of these voters would have their employment prospects endangered by a rapid transformation of the energy sector. Others would be hurt by higher prices.