The Washington Post

Gore pressed Biden to stick with climate plans

Some Democrats fear initiative­s would weaken in an infrastruc­ture deal


A number of Democrats are growing increasing­ly nervous that the White House could agree to a bipartisan infrastruc­ture deal that scales back key climate-change initiative­s, prompting a lobbying push that has included former vice president Al Gore making his case directly to President Biden.

The private warning last month from the climate hawk and Democratic grandee comes as Biden faces growing unease among liberals — including many administra­tion officials — about his pursuit of Republican support for his next major spending package.

Gore called Biden to insist on the inclusion of climate policies after the encouragem­ent of John Podesta, former chair of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, said people briefed on the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss it. Gore also spoke with Biden aide Steve Ricchetti this week about climate and infrastruc­ture, according to a separate person, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal the private conversati­on. A White House official said the call between Gore and Richetti ended on a positive note.

The former vice president urged Biden to stop the planned Byhalia Pipeline, which would transport crude oil for export through predominan­tly Black neighborho­ods in southwest Memphis and could affect a nearby drinking-water well owned by a local utility.

Biden’s infrastruc­ture plan proposed roughly $1 trillion in clean energy tax credits, support for electric vehicles and their charging infrastruc­ture, research into breakthrou­gh green technologi­es, and a new jobs program to restore public lands and plug abandoned oil and gas wells, among other climate-related measures. Republican­s have rejected many of these proposals, and Biden has fought for the climate measures but has expressed an openness to scaling back his initial proposal to secure bipartisan support.

The private jockeying over the administra­tion’s climate agenda comes at a critical moment, as Biden is pressing world leaders gathering in Europe to more swiftly curb the globe’s carbon output. The United States is unlikely to meet its new pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, according to independen­t analyses, without the funding and incentives Biden has outlined in his infrastruc­ture bill.

The White House’s predicamen­t has led to some angst from within the Biden administra­tion, particular­ly on the strategy with the infrastruc­ture bill. Some Biden economic aides from more-liberal circles — including high-ranking members of the Council of Economic Advisers and the department­s of Treasury and Labor — are largely cut out of the most important decisions on infrastruc­ture negotiatio­ns with Congress, three other people briefed by senior administra­tion officials said. These people also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberati­ons. A White House official said those parts of the administra­tion are a critical part of the infrastruc­ture policy process.

No issue has emerged as a greater cause for alarm on the left than the specter of failure to enact changes to climate policy. The

Obama administra­tion set ambitious climate targets but failed to pass legislatio­n with its congressio­nal majorities to address a rapidly warming planet. Climate experts warn that the world has no time to decarboniz­e the economy without courting humanitari­an catastroph­e, and it could be decades before Democrats again command congressio­nal majorities with which to push through major legislatio­n.

But with many Republican­s lining up in opposition to the White House’s climate agenda, some Democrats fear the president could be backing down in search of getting a deal on infrastruc­ture and a range of other priorities.

“Everyone I talk to in the White House is worried that there is a very powerful contingent in the president’s ear that does actually want the compromise,” said one liberal economist in close communicat­ion with several senior White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss private conversati­ons.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates denied the administra­tion has wavered in its commitment to act on climate change. The White House has repeatedly pointed to a lack of climate-related funding in rejecting the infrastruc­ture proposals floated by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.VA.). And the president frequently highlights the need to make major clean energy investment­s in his speeches and public comments.

A bipartisan bloc of centrist senators announced they had reached a deal on infrastruc­ture on Thursday, but its contents have not become public.

“The President has underscore­d that climate change is one of the defining crises we face as a nation, and in the negotiatio­ns he and his team have continuous­ly fought for leading on the clean energy economy and on clean energy jobs,” Bates said in a statement.

Fae Jencks, a spokeswoma­n for Gore, said in an email that the former vice president “isn’t going to comment on private conversati­ons with the President.” Podesta could not be reached for comment.

Biden’s infrastruc­ture negotiatio­ns put into direct conflict two of his top priorities — bringing bipartisan legislatin­g back to Washington and fulfilling his campaign pledge to address the rapidly warming climate.

Congressio­nal Republican­s have complained throughout negotiatio­ns that the White House is too adamant on its climate-related policies, and Republican­s have attacked Biden’s push to transition America away from its dependence on fossil fuels. Congressio­nal aides say it is virtually impossible to conceive of a bipartisan compromise that lives up to the White House climate policies.

After shutting down negotiatio­ns with Capito earlier this week, Biden is starting to engage with a bipartisan group of 10 senators on a different infrastruc­ture package. Asked whether their emerging infrastruc­ture agreement includes proposals to fight climate change, Sen. Jon Tester (D-mont.) said Thursday, “Oh sure.”

“There are some people that are going to say the climate provisions are more than enough, there are other people that are going to say it’s not adequate,” Tester added. “It’s going to be up to each individual member once this thing is truly done.”

But a bipartisan deal on infrastruc­ture, even a scaled-back version, could help Biden secure one of his top campaign promises.

The administra­tion has suggested that if Congress first approves a narrow bipartisan infrastruc­ture deal it could then try to pass a different measure with support from only Democrats. That additional piece of legislatio­n could serve as the vehicle for addressing climate change and other liberal priorities — such as child care, education and taxing the rich — that Republican­s oppose. The administra­tion is also wary of antagonizi­ng Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.VA.) and Kyrsten Sinema (DAriz.), who have called for a bipartisan product on infrastruc­ture, by rejecting GOP overtures.

That strategy has faced growing doubts among Biden allies, both inside and outside the administra­tion.

About a half-dozen Democratic senators have warned this week against cutting a bipartisan deal on infrastruc­ture that leaves out climate reform. Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.) said in an interview that he is skeptical of assurances that a narrow bipartisan infrastruc­ture deal would be followed by a broader bill that includes climate initiative­s. It is not clear whether Democratic centrists would be willing to approve a second major spending package with only Democratic votes after passing an approximat­ely $1 trillion infrastruc­ture bill. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-ore.) told The Washington Post that he would reject a deal that did not address the climate crisis or raise taxes on multinatio­nal corporatio­ns.

“I think that’s a very dangerous approach to this unless we have a very well-defined and secure commitment from the necessary senators to be able to be assured,” Heinrich said of first passing a narrow infrastruc­ture bill without climate policies. “I’m not a redline guy, but I’m not in a mood to ignore the greatest existentia­l threat to my children’s generation.”

Several experts said the kinds of massive investment­s and generous tax incentives Biden proposed as part of his original jobs bill are essential to accelerati­ng the nation’s shift away from fossil fuels. A recent analysis by Princeton University researcher­s found that policymake­rs would have to mobilize an additional $2.5 trillion in new capital investment in this decade to reach the president’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury.

Princeton engineerin­g professor Jesse Jenkins said in an interview that although the private sector could finance much of it, the federal government would probably have to provide $1 trillion in incentives and spending, along with some new regulation, to achieve this energy shift.

Environmen­tal groups, including the League of Conservati­on Voters and Climate Power, have launched a major effort to bolster support for climate provisions in Biden’s infrastruc­ture and jobs plan. Late last month, LCV announced it would spend more than $10 million on a grass-roots and digital ad campaign. Climate Power has spent $8 million since Inaugurati­on Day touting the jobs potential of clean energy investment­s.

“This is our absolute highest priority. We have to go big, we have to go fast. We are 100 percent out of time to act on the climate crisis,” Tiernan Sittenfiel­d, LCV’S senior vice president for government affairs, said in a phone interview. “This is our shot at once-in-a-generation progress, and we cannot blow it.”

The White House declined to comment on internal deliberati­ons. Biden has also identified a “jobs cabinet” responsibl­e for infrastruc­ture negotiatio­ns that includes Transporta­tion Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

The infrastruc­ture negotiatio­ns come amid scrutiny over the direction of the administra­tion more generally. Biden surprised many economists last week when he said that it “makes sense” for unemployme­nt benefits to end in September, a position the administra­tion had not yet taken. Officials at the Labor Department overseeing the program were also not briefed on the president’s remarks ahead of time, two people familiar with the matter said.

Since his election, Biden has impressed liberals with his large stimulus plan this March and by unveiling $4 trillion in spending and tax plans this spring. Yet the president campaigned as a bipartisan dealmaker, and his long Senate career was defined by a centrist voting record.

“Right after the recovery plan passed, there was this sense of, ‘Oh my god, maybe Biden is the transforma­tive president all along,’ ” said the leader of one liberal activist group in close communicat­ion with the White House, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. “We’re all hoping the Biden who passed that bill is the same one we have now.”

 ?? JEFF SWENSEN/GETTY IMAGES ?? The Genons Cheswick Power Station along the Allegheny River in Pennsylvan­ia still burns coal. A major investment in clean energy is part of President Biden’s infrastruc­ture plan.
JEFF SWENSEN/GETTY IMAGES The Genons Cheswick Power Station along the Allegheny River in Pennsylvan­ia still burns coal. A major investment in clean energy is part of President Biden’s infrastruc­ture plan.

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