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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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry.

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Takeaways from Biden's sweeping order on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's mammoth executive order on climate policy weighs in at over 7,500 words and resists any single narrative, but I've got a few initial takeaways.

Why it matters: The order aims to marshal the entire federal government behind new initiatives, so that means agencies that may not have the muscle memory or expertise of the resource and environmental branches like EPA and DOE.

Updated 24 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.