Sep 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's "code red" climate moment precedes key tests

Illustration of a red globe with a phone attached.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Entering a critical period on Capitol Hill, President Biden spent Tuesday touring flood damage in New Jersey and New York, where the most lives were lost to Hurricane Ida.

Why it matters: During his walkthroughs of damaged neighborhoods, Biden unequivocally made the connection between the disastrous deluge that broke all-time records and human-caused global warming.

State of play: Biden aims to pass legacy-making pieces of legislation as soon as this month, both of which contain critical components of his climate agenda.

  • In an appearance in Queens, Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued the devastation makes a stark case for the bills at a time when the political pathway for moving them is fraught.

The intrigue: With the narrowest of majorities in both chambers, passing these bills will be, to quote the film, "In the Loop," "Difficult, difficult, lemon, difficult."

The big picture: Climate studies show that human-caused global warming is not only creating a hotter planet, but it's resulting in more frequent and severe precipitation extremes, too.

  • This summer, the U.S. and Europe have been the regions where this has most clearly played out.
  • The western U.S. endured a hot, parched summer that has led to a relentless scourge of large wildfires, while the East has been wet, culminating with deadly flash floods in Tennessee last month and with Ida's inundation. Europe also endured devastating flooding.
  • The record rainfall in New Jersey and New York is what scientists anticipate will occur more frequently with global warming.

State of play: On Tuesday, as Biden walked past homes that had been emptied of their ruined contents, water level marks visible along their walls, he spoke about climate change with urgency.

  • “And so, folks, we got to listen to the scientists and the economists and the national security experts,” Biden said in Queens. “They all tell us this is code red; the nation and the world are in peril.”
  • “We can look around the wreckage and the ruins and the heartbreak from so many communities,” he said.
  • “Precious lives lost in Louisiana, in New Jersey, in New York," he said. "Subway stations flooded. Decaying infrastructure pushed beyond the limits."

What we don't know: Whether the recent disasters will create political traction for the measures on Capitol Hill.

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