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No Climate, No Deal: Biden Needs to Sing the Blu’s

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Joel Stronberg's picture
President The JBS Group

Stronberg is a senior executive and attorney with over 40 years of experience in federal and state energy, environmental and sustainability issues. He is the founder and principal of The JBS...

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  • Jun 28, 2021
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If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.

                                                                                                                       President Joe Biden

 

Saturday[i] saw both President Biden and former-President Trumpmaking news lines. The day foreshadowed the slide into the 2022 midterm congressional elections and possibly the 2024 presidential. It’s a present that bodes badly for the president’s climate and society agendas and a future I had hoped would remain in the past.

 

Trump held what was billed as just the first of his revenge rallies. In the case of The Donald, one hardly needs to ask revenge for what? Trump takes any disagreement with him to be a reason for retribution. Ostensibly he was in Wellington, Ohio supporting his former staffer Max Miller in his bid to oust Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) in next year’s Republican primary.

 

Not one for subtlety, Trump described Miller’s opponent as a grandstanding RINO, not respected in DC, who voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional, illegal impeachment witch hunt. Gonzalez, who comes from a Cuban-American family, was first elected to Congress in 2019. He played football as an Academic All-American at Ohio State—credentials usually sufficient to guarantee a successful political career in a state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates since 2000.

 

Trump’s motto these days isn’t to Make America Great; it’s to Save America. From what you ask? I think I have this straight--from what he’s fond of calling the socialist, communistic, coastal elites, who want nothing more than to be left alone to molest children in the basement of a Washington pizza establishment.

 

Warming up Saturday’s crowd was Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who, along with her House-mate Matt Gaetz (R-FL), leads the America First movement. The movement is a barely concealed racist notion of America’s remaining true to its white, western European roots.

 

Greene is an unrepentant supporter of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that even the two leading Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have condemned as loony lies. McConnell has said this about Ms. Greene:

 

Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.

 

Pardon my spending quite so much time describing what happened on a warm night in northern Ohio. I assure you it’s germane to the debate going on in Congress about climate and infrastructure.

 

Biden spent much of his Saturday at Camp David walking back a comment he made two days before as part of his announced support for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure framework brought to him by a group of 21 senators (G21)—eleven Republicans and ten Democrats. I’ve written before that the work of the Senate group was still very much in progress. Given all the devils lurking in the considerable details, progress promises to be slow and contentious.

 

The $1.2 trillion compromise framework was $1 trillion below Biden’s initial infrastructure offering—a proposal that went far beyond traditional projects like building and fixing new roads and bridges. Biden’s American Jobs Plan included most of the climate and society-related initiatives left out of the bipartisan proposal, e.g., a net-zero carbon power sector by 2035 and public investments in-home healthcare services for the elderly.

 

Notwithstanding all the work ahead, the infrastructure agreement was a significant victory for Biden. It gave meaning and possibility to his professed way of doing business on Capitol Hill. As a candidate, the president described himself as a consummate dealmaker. He promised voters he would break through the hyperpartisan barriers that have made governing the nation all but impossible over the entirety of the past two decades.

 

During his driveway press conference, surrounded by G21 members, Biden said he hadn’t given up on the climate and society-related initiatives in his original proposal. He articulated what was being openly discussed along Pennsylvania Avenue and the K Street corridor where the organizations and firms making up much of the Washington lobbying corps have taken up shop—a two-track approach. What wasn’t in the infrastructure bill would be included as part of the budget reconciliation process.

 

Then, it happened. The president said if this [the reconciliation bill] is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem. (Emphasis added) The concerning word here was "tandem."

 

Biden’s comment unleashed tensions in the Republicans standing with him in front of the White House palpable enough that anyone watching the “presser” on C-Span could feel them. Why such tensions if the proposed two-step strategy was hardly a secret?

 

To paraphrase the psalms, Biden saying what he did delivered moderate Republicans like Murkowski, Collins, and Romney into Trump’s hands to be ruled over by the former president and leading conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate.

 

Senator McConnell couldn’t resist the chance to say that Biden caved to the left-wing of his party. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said Biden was engaging in extortion and made the GOP members of the G21 look like f…ing idiots.

 

Biden spent the weekend walking back his comment. He went on record saying he was a stand-up guy, and it wasn’t his intent to suggest the passage of the infrastructure bill was contingent on passage of a reconciliation bill that included the climate and society provisions lost to the compromise.

 

In smoothing the feathers of the G21 Republicans, the president ruffled those of the progressives in the House and Senate. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who chairs the Senate budget committee, said that infrastructure would go nowhere without a firm, absolute agreement about the provisions of the reconciliation bill.

 

House Speaker Pelosi agreed with Sanders and said clearly, if ungrammatically--

 

There ain​’t gonna be no bipartisan bill unless we have a reconciliation bill.

 

As a veteran political negotiator, Biden should know better than to say some of the things he does. It’s one thing to mix up the names of countries or reminisce about events that never occurred. It’s quite another to say something that hardens the parties’ positions in an already arduous negotiation and then to say oh, never mind.

 

In the end, I commend my mother’s words to President Biden--words I should have been more attention to—there are things in this world better left unsaid—at least for the moment.

 


[i] Saturday June 26, 2021.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 28, 2021

"As a veteran political negotiator, Biden should know better than to say some of the things he does."

Joel, you seem to be implying Biden should have said nothing. There are two possibilities. Either:

  1. Biden was being a dunderhead, or
  2. Biden said what he said to pacify AOC Democrats - and possibly, there was some reason beyond either of our ken for charting a deliberately-ambiguous route through troubled waters?

Give the guy a little credit. There was a lot he could have said after the election that would have appeased the AOC crowd, but would have further divided the country. Biden chose the latter, not because it was the easiest choice but because it was the better choice.

Joel Stronberg's picture
Joel Stronberg on Jun 29, 2021

Bob,

As always, I appreciate your comments and efforts to keep me honest.

I wasn't implying the president should have said nothing in regard to the deal being a 2fer. I’m saying it.

The president should have stopped with congratulating the G21 members for their efforts and expressing his enthusiasm for working with them—the generic them—over the next weeks to flesh out the final bill.

Schumer and Pelosi have his back on this--especially Pelosi. Madame Speaker has been clear on linking the bills together. It's one of the few times she and the House progressives are on exactly the same page.

Schumer is also on the record saying that he fully expected that the remaining climate and societal infrastructure provisions of Biden’s American Jobs Act and American Families Act would be picked up in the reconciliation.

The reality is that Manchin and Sinema have a problem with a partisan reconciliation bill, i.e., a bill passed solely with Democratic votes. Both senators are very keen on bipartisanship—it’s something moderates in the House and the Senate would like to be able to campaign on in 2022.

Biden didn’t need to play to the progressives in his public statement. He needed to commend the senators for their hard work and indicate his confidence in Schumer and Pelosi to negotiate—for him—the details of the two bills.

Because Manchin and Sinema are not yet ready to cast their votes with the 46 other Democrats and 2 independents in the Senate, there must be 2 bills—not 2 reconciliation bills. The Senate parliamentarian has rule there can only be one more reconciliation bill. The bipartisan infrastructure bill needs 60 votes—not 51—to pass.

The Republicans standing with him in the White House driveway didn’t need to hear an ultimatum. With Trump still in control of the Republican Party, the 11 GOP senators that worked on the compromise framework need to appear strong.

Telling them my way or the highway makes their lives miserable because they’ll have Trump on their tail at every revenge rally between now and the 2022 midterms. It’s particularly important not to give Graham and eventually McConnell an excuse to seek cover behind Trump's skirts. They may anyway but it wasn’t wise to risk it at this point.

Biden wasn’t charting his way ambiguously through troubled waters as you suggest. He ended up roiling the waters more at a time when calm and confidence needs rule the waves.

The president shouldn’t be the negotiator at this point. He needs to be above the fray and act as the final arbiter of any disputes between the parties. God knows there will be a lot of disputes especially those having to do with the pay-fors.

It’s been my experience that the longer the sides are engaged in the same effort, the more vested each becomes. I have the utmost respect for Biden, but he needs to remember he’s president now and to resist the desire to get down in the mud with members of Congress the way he did as senator and vice-president.

Biden has a lot going for him. Much of the nation wants to see him to succeed. They’re tired of the partisan bickering and support his efforts to make the once in a generation investments he’s discussed both as candidate and president.

I wasn’t suggesting the president is a dunderhead. I have the utmost respect for Mr Biden and have for the many years I’ve been in Capital City.

Notwithstanding my respect, I think he made a mistake in saying what he did. I’d venture he thinks so too, given the effort he’s expended in explaining what he meant.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 29, 2021

And I appreciate your response, Joel. You make a lot of good points.

Sometimes I think Biden should address the nation from his desk more often. It's a tremendous pulpit he could put to good use - but instead, he holds press conferences or briefings that start with Q&A. Why? I have no idea, but it tends to force Biden (or any public figure) to defend policy rather than advance it.
 

He could take a lesson from Lindsey Graham, who comes out with a statement calling it "extortion" and ends up defining the issue.

Joel Stronberg's picture
Joel Stronberg on Jun 30, 2021

Indeed.

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