Biden Walks the Climate-Economy Tightrope

Biden makes a big pledge on climate action, and the Capitol Police union reveals more about the Jan. 6 casualties. It’s Thursday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

President Biden issued a range of sweeping executive orders yesterday aimed at confronting the climate crisis, framing the actions as an equally significant investment in job creation.

In one order, he committed to using the federal government’s purchasing power to order up a vast fleet of zero-emissions vehicles. “This will mean one million new jobs in the American automobile industry,” he said.

He also pledged to reserve 30 percent of federal land and water for conservation purposes, and said he would create a civilian “climate corps” to employ people in conservation work.

He ordered a pause to new oil and gas leases on federal lands and in federal waters — though that does not put a stop to drilling. (As of 2019, more than 26 million acres of federal land had been leased to oil and gas companies.)

And Biden became the first president to mandate that climate change be taken into consideration in all major foreign policy and national security decisions — a move that could have a far-reaching impact.

Earlier in the day, Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, announced that the United States would host an international climate change summit meeting on Earth Day, April 22.

Kerry said that by then, he would announce a new set of specific targets as the United States aims to lower its carbon dioxide emissions under the terms of the Paris Agreement, which Biden has committed to rejoining.

In her confirmation hearing to become the secretary of energy, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan echoed Biden’s dual focus on climate action and job creation.

“I am obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America,” Granholm said in her opening statement, recalling the formative impact that her family’s economic struggles had had on her.

The Department of Energy’s main responsibility is to look after the United States’ nuclear arsenal, but there are a number of areas in which Granholm could take meaningful steps to address environmental concerns, as our climate reporter Brad Plumer writes in a new article.

She could restart a vast federal lending program for clean-energy projects and businesses that the Trump administration had put on hold. And she could tighten energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, potentially cutting down drastically on fossil fuel emissions.

The Federal Reserve plans to keep interest rates close to zero for the foreseeable future, while continuing to buy huge amounts of government-backed bonds in an attempt to prop up the economy, Jerome Powell, the Fed’s chair, told reporters yesterday.

“We’re a long way from a full recovery,” he said, adding that nine million workers are unemployed and that “many small businesses remain under pressure.” He said that the economic recovery was hitched to the fate of the coronavirus pandemic, which itself remains uncertain.

When asked whether he supported calls for another round of economic relief from Congress, Powell did not answer directly, but he emphasized that “strong and sustained” legislative action over the past year had been essential to the recovery thus far.

A day after the Capitol Police’s acting chief formally apologized for the department’s failures on Jan. 6, the Capitol Police union revealed details about the heavy toll that the riot that day took on its officers.

Almost 140 officers from the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department suffered injuries, including brain trauma and smashed spinal disks, according to the union’s chairman, Gus Papathanasiou, who testified yesterday before the House Appropriations Committee. He said that one officer was likely to lose an eye.

The Capitol Police’s acting chief, Yogananda Pittman, took the reins after the former chief, Steven Sund, resigned in the wake of the Capitol riot. In her statement before the committee on Tuesday, she faulted the department’s leadership for failing to adequately prepare for the violence.

Papathanasiou echoed that sentiment, calling it “inexcusable” that rank-and-file officers had not been more fully warned about the influx of armed demonstrators that the department’s leaders knew to expect. “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries,” he said.

“The officers are angry, and I don’t blame them,” Papathanasiou added. “The entire executive team failed us, and they must be held accountable. Their inaction cost lives.”

In his own testimony before the committee, the acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department revealed that a second officer had died by suicide in the wake of the Capitol rampage.

Jeffrey Smith, a 12-year veteran of the department, took his own life on Jan. 15, according to Robert Contee, the acting chief. Howard Liebengood, a 15-year veteran of the Capitol Police, also died by suicide days after the attack, Contee said.

Their deaths followed the fatal beating of a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, during the riot. “Other harm from this traumatic day will be widely felt but possibly unacknowledged,” Contee said in his testimony. “Law enforcement training neither anticipates nor prepares for hours of hand-to-hand combat.”

The threat, as they say in horror movies, might be coming from inside the House. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, repeatedly expressed support for killing Democratic officials in social media posts before she was elected this fall to her first term in Congress, according to a review of her online activity first posted by CNN.

When a Facebook follower asked Greene, “Now do we get to hang them,” referring to Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, she responded: “Stage is being set. Players are being put in place. We must be patient. This must be done perfectly or liberal judges would let them off.”

She also liked a number of Facebook posts that discussed potential violence against Democratic lawmakers and federal employees.

Greene pre-empted CNN’s report by posting a lengthy statement on Twitter on Tuesday, saying that “teams of people” had managed her social media accounts in the past, but she did not disavow the posts.

Representative Jimmy Gomez, Democrat of California, said last night that he would introduce a resolution to expel Greene from the House. “Her very presence in office represents a direct threat against the elected officials and staff who serve our government,” Gomez said. But two-thirds of House members would need to vote to expel a fellow member, and Democrats enjoy only a narrow majority.

Photo of the day

John Kerry, the climate envoy, with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris before an event at the White House yesterday on the administration’s response to climate change.

From Opinion: Do or (have your legislation) die

By Talmon Joseph Smith

For the first time since 2009, the Democratic Party enters a new Congress with control of the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. And only a week into the Biden administration, there has been a lot of hand-wringing and finger-wagging in Washington over what responsibly wielding that power looks like. In his latest essay, the Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, a proud progressive, asks bluntly, “What was the point of putting together a majority in the Senate if they aren’t going to wield it?”

He argues that “Democrats have two options for passing Biden’s plan into law,” writing, “They could use ‘reconciliation’ — a limited-use parliamentary maneuver that lets any deficit-neutral budget-related bill pass with a simple majority — or they could end the legislative filibuster and rid themselves of the burden of a 60-vote threshold” for legislative passage in the Senate and face few limits on accomplishing their agenda. His ultimatum: “Change the rules and govern or leave them as is and struggle on the way to likely defeat in the next elections.”

As is his habit, Jamelle then anchors this analysis in history. Playing hardball in Congress, he points out, led to some of liberals’ most historic gains. “In 1961, the prospect of gridlock and the possibilities opened up by a new administration motivated a coalition of liberals and moderates to change the rules and clear a path that would, in just a few short years, allow Congress to pass some of the most important legislation in its history,” he writes.

And he concludes that the consequences of manicuring the congressional status quo instead of upending it in the name of policy progress could be dire. If moderate Democrats select the former option, he warns, “they should prepare for when the voting public decides it would rather have the party that promises nothing and does nothing than the one that promises quite a bit but won’t work to make any of it a reality.”

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