What to Know in Washington: Biden Works to Deliver on Climate

President Joe Biden aims to prove to the world this week that the U.S. has rejoined the international fight against climate change by vowing cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are both ambitious and achievable.

Whether those cuts will be either ambitious enough to reassure skeptical allies or achievable given myriad domestic obstacles is far from a sure thing.

The Biden administration is expected to unveil the country’s new pledge under the Paris climate agreement, known as a nationally determined contribution, before the international climate summit set to begin this Thursday. He’ll have to overcome the major trust deficit run up by former President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Paris agreement and dismantled domestic policies key to driving the country’s promised emissions cuts. The past four years revealed how tenuous pledges of U.S government action can be.

The White House is seriously considering a pledge to slash emissions 50% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. To achieve that target, the administration will rely on a foundation of domestic climate programs and policies, including investments in renewable power and electric vehicles, as well as regulations throttling greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, oil wells, and automobiles. While those limits were relaxed under Trump, the Biden administration is set to revive more stringent replacements.

Environmental groups have armed the administration with blueprints for reaching the U.S. carbon-cutting goal through federal policies, new laws, and local government action. Each offers a different road map, giving the Biden administration flexibility to take some routes and forgo others. But any of the given options will demand serious, sustained, dramatic action of the sort the country has been unable to muster for decades past.

Photographer: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg
Biden outlined his administration’s climate plan on Jan. 27 with Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. presidential climate envoy John Kerry.

Biden Rushes Jobs Reassurance With Emissions Cut: As Biden unveils an ambitious target this week to cut the nation’s climate-warming emissions, his administration is also taking steps to refute critics who say it’ll put large numbers of American jobs at risk. Administration officials such as White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm have events scheduled today to make the case that the president’s fight against climate change will be a net gain for employment, creating more jobs than it will eliminate. Read more from Ari Natter.

Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda: Biden plans to meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House at 1:15 p.m. today as outreach continues on his $2.25 trillion infrastructure-and-tax plan. The meeting comes as talks on a potential bipartisan agreement on a scaled-down version of Biden’s so-called American Jobs Plan have intensified.

  • The House plans to consider 21 measures today under expedited procedure that indicates broad, bipartisan support.
  • The Senate will resume consideration of legislation combating hate crimes against Asian-Americans. The chamber voted 92-6 on Wednesday to move forward on the legislation, which lawmakers of both parties say they want to expand and strengthen, Laura Litvan reports.
  • Click here for a complete list of this week’s hearings and markups.

Democrats’ Tax-Hike Bet Relies on Wealthy Voters: Biden is asking congressional Democrats to vote for a tax increase that will test a long-held liberal article of faith: that many wealthy Democrats won’t mind paying more in taxes if they can be convinced the money would lead to greater prosperity for everyone. Democrats now represent 65% of taxpayers with a household income of $500,000 or more, according to pre-pandemic Internal Revenue Service statistics. And as Congress begins considering Biden’s $2.25 trillion spending and tax proposal, Democrats are being explicit with their constituents about how much it’ll cost them — and how much they say it will begin to address issues like income inequality. The sales pitch reflects their theory that wealthy Democrats will support paying higher taxes because of a changed economy and a political realignment that’s put cultural issues ahead of traditional pocketbook issues in voters’ minds. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Senate GOP to Debate Debt Ceiling Approach: Senate Republicans will debate whether to push for spending cuts to balance any increase in the federal debt ceiling later this year. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) plans to force a debate at a Senate GOP conference meeting on Wednesday. He plans to offer an amendment to GOP rules that would require spending cuts equal to the amount of any debt-ceiling increase. While those rules aren’t strictly binding on Republican members, adopting such a measure could complicate future efforts to raise the debt limit. Read more from Erik Wasson.

Around the Administration

Biden Clashes With His Allies in Green-Card Case: Biden’s balancing act on the politically fraught issue of immigration moves to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that finds the new administration at odds with Democratic lawmakers and progressive allies. In an argument set for today, the administration will defend the government’s policy of blocking permanent-residency applications from thousands of immigrants who’ve been living legally in the U.S. for years.

The case underscores the challenges for Biden in navigating a polarizing subject and fending off criticism from both sides. It comes as his team eases away from the most hard-line policies of Trump while trying to manage the rising influx of migrants at the southern border. Read more from Greg Stohr.

  • Biden said he plans to announce a higher refugee cap for this year, following a swift backlash from allies over a decision to keep the historically low ceiling set by his predecessor. Biden on Friday signed an order intended to accelerate processing of refugees while keeping Trump’s 15,000-person cap in place. That backtracked on the White House’s plan to accept far more refugees this year. Top Democrats condemned the move, with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin calling the decision unacceptable. “We’re going to increase the number,” Biden told reporters on Saturday about the refugee cap. Read more from Jordan Fabian.
  • Mexico’s president will propose a regional agreement on migration to the U.S. this week and the expansion of his tree planting program to Central America as an option to provide order in the process of seeking entry to the U.S. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would propose the plan to Biden at a summit on climate change on Thursday. He said the plan could create more than a million jobs and that participants in the reforestation program should be given a chance to obtain U.S. work visas and, eventually, even U.S. citizenship. Read more from Michael O’Boyle.

Afghan Pullout Said to Fit With U.S. Shift to China: Withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan meshes with the Biden administration’s goal of focusing resources on challenges such as China and Covid-19, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “The terrorism threat has moved to other places,” Blinken said on ABC yesterday. “And we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to Covid. And that’s where we have to focus our energy and resources.” Read more from Tony Czuczka.

  • Following Biden’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, China rejected criticism of its policies and said Biden’s and Suga’s expressions of concern meddled in China’s affairs. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing was replying to a statement issued by the White House saying the two leaders “shared their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order.” Read more from David Wainer and Isabel Reynolds.
  • Still, the U.S. and China said they are committed to cooperating to tackle climate change, after meetings between senior envoys last week that were held amid rising geopolitical tensions between the two countries. The two nations will work together and with other parties to support implementation of the Paris Agreement and to promote a successful U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow this year, they said. Read more from Dominic Lau and Philip J. Heijmans.

Biden Team Weighs Russia Sanctions Impact: The Biden administration is evaluating the impact of new sanctions on Russia and is prepared to escalate those penalties if the Kremlin fails to rein in hacking attacks and attempts to interfere with the U.S. political process, according to people familiar with the matter. Options available to Biden include expanding the measures announced Thursday to bar U.S. financial institutions from the secondary market for ruble-denominated bonds issued by Russian state banks, said the people, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity. Jennifer Jacobs and Henry Meyer have more.

  • The U.S. warned Russia of “consequences” if jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny dies, deepening the conflict over the dissident who has already survived an alleged assassination attempt and is now engaged in the third week of a hunger strike, Henry Meyer reports.

Signs of Thaw on Iran Nuclear Deal Emerge in Vienna Talks: The U.S. and Iran edged closer to ending their standoff over the nuclear deal abandoned by Trump, with Washington describing talks as “constructive” and the Islamic Republic signaling that it was ready to debate the details of how the two sides can revive the stricken 2015 accord. Jake Sullivan, United States National Security Adviser, told Fox News on Sunday “the talks in Vienna have been constructive in the sense that there is real effort underway there” and that world powers were focused on restoring the agreement on a “compliance for compliance” basis. Read more from Golnar Motevalli and Arsalan Shahla.

U.S. Is Unlikely to ‘Just Cancel’ J&J Shots, Fauci Says: A decision on how to resume vaccinating Americans with the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus shot will probably come by Friday, the top U.S. infectious-diseases specialist said, a faster timeline than other health officials have indicated. Anthony Fauci spoke as the U.S. reached a vaccination milestone: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on its website yesterday that more than half of people in the U.S. age 18 and older have now had at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Biden Pick Gary Gensler Is Sworn In as SEC Chairman: Gary Gensler was sworn in Saturday to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he’ll be Biden’s top cop on Wall Street. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) swore in Gensler, 63, at a ceremony in Baltimore, the new chairman’s home town, three days after the Senate approved his nomination on a 53-to-45 vote. Read more from Erik Wasson and Ben Bain.

Politics & Influence

Diverse Nevada Argues for a New Primary Lineup: Nevada wants to leapfrog Iowa and New Hampshire and hold the first U.S. presidential nominating contest in 2024, a move that would give the racially diverse state with powerful labor interests an early opportunity to shape the race for the White House. A bill with broad support is moving through the Nevada legislature to change the contest to a primary from a caucus, and move the date to early January from late February, before Iowa and New Hampshire traditionally vote. It’s expected to pass by the April 20 legislative deadline, said State Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson. Read more from Emma Kinery.

Trump Rape Accuser Asks to Keep Suit Alive: A former New York advice columnist who says Donald Trump defamed her when he denied raping her two decades ago urged a federal appeals court to reject the former president’s claim that he’s protected from her lawsuit because he was a government employee when it was filed. E. Jean Carroll asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan to affirm a trial judge’s finding that the suit isn’t blocked by a federal law that protects government workers from lawsuits related to their jobs. The Justice Department under Trump backed his argument before he lost re-election, and the Biden administration hasn’t weighed in. Read more from Erik Larson.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com