Analysis: Biden turns storm devastation into a sales pitch on disaster areas for legacy invoices


“Thank goodness you are safe,” Biden told a family, whose home was destroyed by a fire caused by flooding in New Jersey.

But the president also adopted a more overtly political tone than one would normally expect for such visits, specifically linking Ida’s vicious power to the climate crisis, and arguing that destroyed homes justified his signing bills. .

His strategy could introduce a new urgency to measures that still face a dangerous track on Capitol Hill. But the specific focus on climate action could also exacerbate the concerns of leading moderate senators, including West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, whose votes are critical to adopting Biden’s ambitious agenda. And they will surely lead the conservative media to accuse the president of politicizing the victims of the storm.

The pitch came as Biden seeks to restore his authority after a difficult August marked by criticism over his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fight to contain a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to listen to scientists, economists and national security experts. They are all telling us this is code red,” said Biden in Queens, New York, which has been hit by severe flash floods. . At least 52 people have been killed in the northeast by Ida, which dumped record-breaking rainfall over parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey after first landing in Louisiana.

“The nation and the world are in peril. It’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact,” Biden said. “They warned us that extreme weather conditions would become more extreme over the decade, and we are experiencing it in real time now.”

Two vital bills for Biden’s legacy

The president specifically touted his bipartisan $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure deal with Republicans that he said would fix bridges threatened by higher water levels. He also pushed his $ 3.5 trillion spending plan, which includes billions of dollars in funding to cut carbon emissions, clean energy, modernization of power grids and green transportation, including a network of stations. charging of electric vehicles. Changing his ‘build back better’ mantra from the 2020 campaign, the president said the country now needs to rebuild in a new way to resist climate change.

Traditionally, the leaders of political parties in Western countries that have embarked on the fight against climate change have struggled to communicate the urgency of the task of spending billions of dollars to fight what has at times been a vague threat. future. This has offered openings for conservative climate change skeptics to oppose big-ticket remedies to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming.

But Biden has always presented his climate plans not as an environmental crusade but as a massive employment program, promising the creation of a next-generation economy that will exceed current employment and job losses in high-demand industries. carbon content. And now he has toughened his rhetoric by highlighting a wave of storms, floods, wildfires and droughts to claim that the effects of climate change are happening in real time all over the United States and must be fought with immediate action.

“We’re out of time,” Biden said.

“We can’t really go back, but we can prevent it from getting worse,” he said on Tuesday, describing global warming as “everyone’s crisis.”

“Category 6” hurricane warning

Along with sweeping changes to make the economy fairer for working Americans and to expand the social safety net, climate change is a top priority for the Biden administration.

Billions of dollars spent on climate projects are included in the $ 3.5 trillion spending plan that might otherwise have been contained in separate climate bills. This strategy is designed to push through agendas with a parliamentary device known as reconciliation that can be used for budget measures and can avoid the obstructionist blockade tactics of Senate Republicans.

The climate is also a cornerstone of Biden’s ambition to restore US leadership on the world stage after ex-President Donald Trump alienated US allies – as well as helping rehabilitate his own image afterwards. the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The president has joined the Paris climate agreement from which his predecessor had withdrawn and on Tuesday he announced that he would take an important symbolic step by going to the United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland in November . To give credibility to his bid for world leadership and to pressure other world powers to take economically painful measures to cool a warming planet, Biden hopes to wield a flurry of new climate measures recently passed by Congress. The bills are also crucial to the United States’ commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels.

“We have to move and we have to move the rest of the world. It’s not just the United States of America,” Biden said.

Perhaps the president is pursuing a ruthless political strategy by taking advantage of weather disasters. But he’s on solid scientific ground. Experts have long warned that super intense hurricanes and other weather-related disasters offer a devastating glimpse into the future.

“It is no coincidence here that the most intense and destructive hurricanes on record in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere, the Atlantic and the Pacific … which are fueling these more storms stronger and more destructive, ”Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Tuesday. “We are now starting to talk about storms qualitatively different from anything we have seen before, where we will have to introduce a category 6 to describe the destructive potential of storms.”

Biden is confident in Manchin’s support

Biden has made his aggressive call for climate action alongside New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the US Senate majority leader, who will play a pivotal role in trying to get the spending plan to cross the finish line.

But his enthusiastic highlighting of the climate aspects of the bills is not without political risks. Framing the spending proposal as part of a broad climate package will appeal to progressives who are demanding passage of the bill as a prize to support the infrastructure package in the House. But that could lead the president to a collision with Manchin, who last week threatened to disrupt Biden’s entire national agenda by calling for a slowdown in the spending program and questioning its size.

Manchin voted to advance a first framework for the spending plan, which also includes billions of dollars in funding for health care, child care and other social programs last month in the Senate. He didn’t mention global warming in a Wall Street Journal editorial last week in which he expressed reservations, focusing instead on rising inflation.

But the moderate Democrat has long been a staunch supporter of the coal industry in his home state and warned earlier this year that he was concerned about the arrangements he saw as designed to wipe out the fossil fuel industry. .

Given the 50-50 tie in the Senate, there is no way the spending bill could pass without Manchin’s vote. The West Virginia senator is not the only moderate Democrat who could be hampered by a climate strategy that could play into Republican plans to denounce the bill as a huge spending spree.

Biden, however, expressed confidence in Manchin’s support on Tuesday night, saying: “Joe, in the end, has always been there.”

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a sharp retort to the West Virginia senator, who was re-elected in 2018 in a state won twice generously by former President Donald Trump – and without whom the Democrats would be. in the minority in the other room.

“Obviously, I don’t agree,” Pelosi told CNN when asked about Manchin’s call for Congress to put the brakes on the budget bill.

“The number is the number, $ 3.5 (trillion), we can’t go past that,” Pelosi said. When asked if it would go below the figure that gave Manchin pause, the speaker replied: “Why?”

This month is shaping up to be a fateful month for Biden’s agenda. If the president can push through both the infrastructure bill and the spending plan, he will claim to have one of the most historically significant Democratic presidencies in modern times. If he fails, there is little chance he will enter the 2022 midterm election year with a substantial legislative brief to run on. And the possibility of a Republican-led house from 2023 could mean the current Democratic window on power is narrow.

This harsh reality, not to mention the state of the planet, helps explain the almost apocalyptic note of urgency evident in Biden’s voice on Tuesday.

“I think we’re at one of those inflection points where we either act or we’re going to have real problems. Our kids are going to have real problems,” he said.

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