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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some Democratic senators are threatening to obstruct President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees if he’s not aggressive enough on climate change, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told Axios.

Why it matters: Whitehouse is a leader on climate change in his party, but he has also shown to be a bipartisan dealmaker when he wants to be. So, what he says suggests broader support among other Democrats.

What they’re saying:

“I think there are quite a considerable number of senators who keenly believe that we missed huge opportunities in the Obama administration, that the Trump administration was a wasteland in which we went backwards and that the urgency of this moment is incredibly compelling and we just won’t tolerate a casual, insipid approach to dealing with this vital issue.”
— Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, in recent Axios interview

In a statement to Axios, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), struck a similar tone. “Part of what propelled President-elect Biden to his resounding victory was his commitment to addressing the climate crisis head on, and I will be strongly encouraging the incoming administration to deliver on that promise in every way possible.”

Driving the news: Whitehouse said he’s calling on the incoming Biden administration to have the Justice Department investigate organizations that fossil-fuel companies have in the past funded and may continue to that are propagating “climate denialism and climate obstruction and political ownership of the Republican Party.”

  • An example Whitehouse cited would be the Heartland Institute, an organization known for pushing false information on climate change.
  • The institute’s, president, James Taylor, dismissed the threat and said the group “welcomes free and fair discussion of climate change” in an email to Axios.
  • Whitehouse noted that he’s shared his ask with John Kerry, Biden’s incoming international climate envoy, and “I get good feedback,” Whitehouse told me. “We’ll see once they actually get in and once they actually start governing.”

The intrigue: So what happens if Biden doesn’t move as aggressively as Whitehouse and others want? “We’ve got a lot of officials who are going to need to get confirmed by the Senate,” Whitehouse said.

  • It’s less common, but not unprecedented, for senators of the same party as the president to hold up Cabinet nominees due to disagreements on policies or even specific parochial issues.

For the record: In a statement to Axios, Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for Biden’s transition team, echoed Biden’s plans to pursue an aggressive climate agenda. He didn’t respond to Whitehouse’s comment regarding holding up nominees or investigating specific organizations.

  • Biden said in 2019 he would seek to hold companies accountable if they knew and misled the public about climate change, which is a related issue Whitehouse is pushing.
  • Whitehouse is supporting state lawsuits on that matter, but his focus for now at the federal level are organizations like Heartland.

Go deeper: Why Biden and Democrats went big on climate change

Go deeper

Biden outlines plan to reverse Trump policies on first day of presidency

President-elect Joe Biden at the Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will roll back some of President Trump's most controversial policies and address "four overlapping and compounding crises" in his first 10 days in office — the pandemic, the economic downturn, climate change and racial inequity.

Driving the news: The plan is outlined in a memo from incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain Saturday. Following Biden's inauguration Wednesday, he'll "sign roughly a dozen actions to combat the four crises," Klain said.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Jan 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Early test for Biden Doctrine

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President-elect Biden’s foreign policy team could just about have been assembled by returning to President Obama’s second term and playing a round of musical chairs.

The big picture: Nearly all of the three-dozen picks announced thus far served under Obama, often in positions adjacent to those they’ll now hold.

  • The State Department, for example, will be led by two people — Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Wendy Sherman as his deputy — who previously served just one rung below their new jobs.

What to watch: One early test will be Biden’s plan to revive Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, the Iran nuclear deal.

  • Most of the deal’s negotiators and fiercest advocates, including Sherman and incoming climate czar John Kerry, are joining Biden’s team. Go deeper.

Who to watch: Jake Sullivan, 44, will be the youngest national security adviser since the Kennedy administration.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jan 16, 2021 - Economy & Business

Wall Street power shift

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Power will move from Wall Street to Washington over the next four years.

  • That's the message being sent by President-elect Biden, with his expected nomination of Wall Street foe Gary Gensler to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, and by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), incoming head of the Senate Banking Committee.

Why it matters: Biden is charting an economic policy that's visibly to the left of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. If he succeeds, it's going to show up not only in taxes and spending, but also in regulation.

Who to watch: Biden is being pulled to the left on economic policy not only by the Democratic Party, but also by economic orthodoxy.

  • Led by incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the economic policy team has signaled that it will be the first administration ever to construct economic policy around issues like race, gender equality and climate change, rather than around traditional indicators like gross domestic product or deficit ratios.
  • Gensler has a skepticism of Wall Street learned the hard way — in the halls of Goldman Sachs. He won't be snowed by bankers trying to tell him that they know better than he does.