Joe Biden walks political tightrope by saying he does not support the Green New Deal

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2020

“I don’t support the Green New Deal,” Biden said when pressed by Wallace. “I support the Biden plan I put forward.” 

While Biden has managed in the past to praise the Green New Deal without fully endorsing it, his most recent comments in front of a live television audience have the potential to reopen old intraparty wounds. Sensing a weak spot, President Trump sought to turn the exchange into a wedge between Democratic Party’s liberals and moderates.

“Oh, well, that’s a big statement,” Trump responded, talking over Biden as he often did during Tuesday evening’s ugly and rancorous event. “That means you just lost the radical left.”

Biden has spent months reconciling the climate demands of his party’s liberal and moderate wings.

Over the spring, Biden revamped his climate plan after it failed to impress young climate activists. The youth-led Sunrise Movement, which backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the primary, gave his initial proposal an “F.”

Biden’s pivot to the left, unusual for a candidate who just locked down his party’s nomination, resulted in a more extensive plan that called for spending $2 trillion over four years to eliminate carbon emissions from the power sector by 2035 through a set of mandates.

Aiming to own the issue during the debate, Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to pressure Brazil to stop the destruction of the Amazon. He promised transitioning to cleaner energy would be an economic boon and would creating “hard, hard, good jobs by making sure the environment is clean.”

While Biden’s plan is more aggressive than anything from any other major party candidate, the Green New Deal sought for more. That plan, which Biden’s eventual running mate Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) co-sponsored, called for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the entire U.S. economy within just 10 years. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s nonbinding resolution set a goal, but didn’t specify how those emissions cuts would be achieved, and labor leaders said the timeline was too unrealistic.

The original Green New Deal backers sought to tamp down any divisions after the debate.

In a message retweeted by the president himself, Trump campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso said “the American people deserve an answer” about what Biden thinks about the Green New Deal.

Markey, who recently won a tough primary in Massachusetts in part by emphasizing his environmental record, responded by saying he and other progressives are still backing Biden despite his comments.

“I support the Green New Deal and I’m voting for Vice President Joe Biden,” Markey said in a statement after the debate. “Donald Trump is wrong. The liberal left is with Joe Biden, and we will pass a Green New Deal.”

On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez wrote she worked with the Biden campaign on climate change to “set aside our differences & figure out an aggressive climate plan to address.”

Earlier this year, Ocasio-Cortez led with former secretary of state John F. Kerry a climate task force meant to unify the Biden and Sanders wings of the party. Their nine-person panel crafted, which included Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash, crafted an outline of a climate plan designed for broad appeal.

Her climate group, which brought the idea of the Green New Deal to the fore in Washington by staging sit-in protests in Congress, echoed Biden’s previous comments saying the slogan is “a framework, not one bill.”

Trump’s own response to whether he believed in climate change was strained.

When pressed by Wallace, the president said that greenhouse gas emissions contributed to the warming of the planet “to an extent.”

“I think a lot of things do, but I think, to an extent, yes,” he said.

The vast majority of climate scientists agree that the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities are the primary driver of the rise of global temperatures. Trump, by contrast, has suggested in the past that the notion that the Earth is warming is a hoax cooked up by the Chinese government.

Trump offered few specifics for achieving “crystal-clean water and air,” and wouldn’t say whether the wildfires scorching California were being made worse by rising temperatures.

He also defended rolling back Obama-era rules meant to curb emissions from automobiles and power plants.

On cars, the president said fuel-efficiency standards made only a “tiny difference” and said he supported “big incentives” for electric vehicles.

In reality, his White House has proposed eliminating tax credits for purchasing electric cars.

Few were expecting any questions about climate change at all from Wallace.

His initial list of debate topics instead included coronavirus pandemic, the economy, election integrity, and “race and violence in our cities.”

But the Fox News host found himself under pressure from Democratic politicians as well as his peers in the media to ask about an issue many of them see as an existential crisis, even in the midst of all the health, social and economic tumult of the year.

Without mentioning climate change, “any discussion on the economy, racial justice, public health, national security, democracy, or infrastructure would be incomplete,” three dozen Democratic senators, led by Markey, wrote to the Commission of Presidential Debates demanding every debate include questions on climate change.

“Wallace clearly recognized that not asking about climate change would be a dereliction of journalistic duty, since wildfires, more intense storms and other climate change impacts are hurting average Americans and our economy already,” Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate advisor, said.

Biden seemed pleased when the topic came up.

“You know, I’d like to talk about climate change,” Wallace said at one point, interrupting the bickering candidates.

“So would I,” Biden said.