Apr 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The real importance of Biden's new climate push

An illustration of Biden pointing to a gas emitter.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Something Al Gore said in his endorsement of Joe Biden gets to what really matters about Biden’s recent emphasis on climate change — and it stands apart from the changes the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is already planning to make to his platform.

Driving the news: Here's part of Gore's interview with the Associated Press yesterday...

  • "He declined to get into the specifics of his policy discussions with Biden or his campaign aides, but he said Biden already has the right focus and has expressed a willingness to make climate action his 'top priority'" (emphasis added).
  • Similarly, yesterday's New York Times piece on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's endorsement of Biden says it came after "extensive private conversations in which Mr. Biden signaled he would make fighting climate change a central cause of his administration."

My thought bubble: If Biden wins, the way he deploys his political capital and administrative focus will matter more than how his policy platform might get stronger.

  • That's because Biden's existing plan is already more expansive than what's likely to clear Congress — even if Democrats somehow eke out a narrow Senate majority — or survive an increasingly conservative judiciary.
  • So a bigger thing to watch is how much — and how fast — Biden might muster the strength of his political, diplomatic and administrative apparatus to enact new policies.
  • It's related to what we've noted repeatedly in this newsletter: The much-discussed gap between Biden's climate plan and Bernie Sanders' platform shrinks when you consider what could get through Congress and what executive steps would survive court challenges.

Flashback: In 2009, the Obama administration and Senate Democrats prioritized sweeping health care legislation over trying to pass a big climate bill, which was already a steep climb.

  • Attempts to move emissions-capping legislation collapsed in the Senate in mid-2010 without even coming up for a vote.

Catch up fast: Biden is vowing tougher steps on climate, saying this week that he plans to bolster provisions on environmental justice, medium-term targets, and clean energy investments.

  • Gore also said Biden "has asked him to 'engage in an ongoing dialogue' to 'strengthen his climate platform considerably.'"
  • And don't forget that Biden is also forming a task force on climate with Sanders.
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