Joe Biden 'Cowardly' for Bowing to Manchin's Fossil Fuel Donors, Hunger Strike Leader Says

A 20-year-old climate activist who confronted Sen. Joe Manchin while on hunger strike outside the White House in protest of the Biden administration's inaction on the climate crisis, has called the president "cowardly" for allowing the West Virginia senator and his "fossil fuel donors" to halt progress.

Abby Leedy made headlines after her run-in with Manchin on October 26, after the senator addressed the Economic Club of D.C. The Sunrise Movement activist challenged the Democratic senator for blocking the climate bill and said doing so was robbing the younger generation of "a liveable future."

President Joe Biden is in Glasgow, Scotland this week for COP26, a crucial U.N. climate summit. He was looking to pass America's most ambitious climate bill in history before the summit, but it remains stalled in Congress.

The legislation includes $555 billion in financial incentives aimed at boosting renewable energy, as well as a tax break that will deliver up to $12,500 to people who buy an electric car.

The bill will also help fund climate adaptation measures to natural disasters such as wildfires, and employ 300,000 people in a new "civilian climate corps." The new measures are part of a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, which would help the U.S. in its goal of cutting emissions by over 50 percent by 2030.

But two holdout centrist Democrats, Manchin, who represents coal-rich West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), have opposed parts of Biden's legislation and refused to vote for it in the Senate to make it enshrined in law. Manchin objects to a provision in the plan that would direct $150 billion towards eliminating fossil fuels. The Democrats will need their support to pass the legislation through the 50-50 Senate.

Leedy told Newsweek that Manchin is "strategically and actively trying to block any climate action."

Manchin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate energy committee, has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. He has stock valued between $1 million and $5 million in Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage firm which he founded in 1988. He earned nearly half a million dollars in dividends in 2020 from Enersystems, according to his Senate financial disclosure report.

"He is an active opponent of climate action or anything else that would curtail the power of the fossil fuel industry, which is causing the climate crisis. And I think that is because he's tied to their profits. He's choosing the money that he's getting from the fossil fuel industry over our lives and he is waging a campaign right now to protect those profits at the cost of the entire world," Leedy told Newsweek.

The activist, who works with the Sunrise Movement, a youth movement to stop climate change and create jobs, criticized Biden for not doing more to pass the climate bill.

"Joe Biden has not done anything to stand up to Joe Manchin and his fossil fuel donors [Biden is] treating this like a good faith negotiation when it clearly is not, and that is cowardly and it's wrong," Leedy added.

"He has not moved to ask the Senate to censure Joe Manchin, to remove him from committees, he has not gone on air and call this out for what it is, which is really a fossil fuel funded campaign to protect their profits over all of our lives."

She said that as president of the United States, Biden could do more to combat the crisis but instead "he is just sitting on his hands."

"This administration is still approving new fossil fuel leases, we are still doing off-shore drilling in American waters, we are still exporting fossil fuels. All these things are clearly causing the climate crisis and Joe Biden has the power to stop it at any minute.

"So for him to say that that Joe Manchin is holding up his climate agenda, that's ridiculous and it's a lie. He has lots of power that he's not using."

Newsweek has contacted Manchin's office and the White House for comment.

As negotiations continue at the Capitol, the Build Back Better Bill has since been pared back to $1.85 trillion, and is missing many of the key climate change components from the original bill. After the White House released a framework of the revised bill last week, Manchin failed to endorse it.

Leedy is part of a group of five young activists that were on hunger strike outside the White House since October 20. She said they were protesting against Biden not keeping promises regarding addressing climate change. The activists finished their strike on Tuesday, after spending two weeks without any food. Leedy said that striking for longer would cause irreversible damage to their health.

Climate activists outside White House
A photo of the five climate hunger strikers outside the White House. Abby Leedy (second from the right) confronted Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on October 26 over his ties to the fossil fuel industry and his blocking of a climate bill the Biden adminstation is looking to pass through the Senate. Abby Leedy/Sunrise Movement