How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

US President Joe Biden, accompanied by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives at the US Capitol to meet with members of the House Democratic caucus. (AFP/File Photo)
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US President Joe Biden, accompanied by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) arrives at the US Capitol to meet with members of the House Democratic caucus. (AFP/File Photo)
A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)
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Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 26 October 2021

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy
  • Administration’s agenda in danger because of infighting within ruling Democratic party
  • If Biden arrives empty-handed in Glasgow, there will be little hope for a breakthrough at COP26

DUBAI: Just days before he heads to the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, US President Joe Biden’s climate agenda is in danger because of infighting between progressives and moderates within his own Democratic Party in Congress.

The fight is over his domestic agenda presented in two bills: A social spending bill, referred to as Building Back Better; and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill which cleared the US Senate earlier this year. Both are considered legacy-leaving actions by the president, but one of them contains the most significant climate action ever taken by a US leader.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded optimistic over a deal between Democrats over the weekend, when the president met with Congressional leaders over his agenda, but nothing is in the bag yet. Pelosi said that Democrats are very close to a deal on the two bills. “I think we’re pretty much there now,” she told CNN on Sunday.

The original social spending bill of Biden, which includes the climate provisions section, began as a $3.5 trillion package, but the bill that is being negotiated now is much lower because of fierce opposition from moderate Democrats.

Two senators hold the key to reaching a deal over the bills and to a strong US position at COP26. The US can either lead with very ambitious position — or temper the high expectations of the summit if the two Democrats succeed in scaling down the president’s agenda in the spending bills.

The US is believed to have “contributed more to global warming than any other nation,” as The New York Times said, and if the US arrives at COP26 with a modest domestic plan to cut emissions it will make it harder to convince other polluters to cut their own emissions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told The Guardian newspaper that the US “will look ridiculous if they show up with nothing.”

This is also a make-it-or-break-it moment for the president and the Democrats, for they might never have another opportunity to pass their agenda, including their climate policy.

They now control both houses of Congress, and although it is a razor-thin majority in the Senate, they might not have this opportunity again if they do not win big in the 2022 Congressional elections.




(L-R): US Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) take a break from a meeting on infrastructure for going to a vote at the US Capitol. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Senate is equally split now, giving each senator veto power over the budget and any policy decision, with the situation effectively making every senator “a president,” as Biden has put it.

Biden’s domestic agenda, including climate, is dependent on an agreement being reached within his own party this week, not only to preserve his legacy but also to guarantee Democrats a chance to keep power for another term in the next elections.

The majority of the Democrats agree with Pelosi that the bill that Congress is discussing is transformational and historic, and they liken it to the New Deal, the programs enacted by Roosevelt after the Great Depression. However, they have not been able to convince the two senators to toe the party line and end their opposition to the bills.

Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema are not only opposing Biden’s bills, but also threatening his domestic policy plan. They have been so dogged in their opposition as to prompt a prominent Democratic senator like Bernie Sanders to claim that it is “simply not fair, not right that one or two senators say: My way or the highway.”

Although they are both holding off on any breakthrough on reaching a deal, the objectives of Manchin and Sinema are not identical.

Manchin, from a coal-dependent state, West Virginia, has expressed concern over rising inflation because of the size of the package and its cost, but in practical terms, it is politics that is mainly on his mind.

His state and constituents depend on coal for economic survival; entire towns might cease to exist if West Virginia’s coal mines are shut down. The state also depends on coal-fired plants for 91 percent of its electricity production.

Manchin wants the $3.5 trillion price tag of the president’s bill to be cut in half to $1.5 trillion.

He is not in favor of one aspect of Biden’s climate change agenda — the part that seeks to encourage transition to clean energy. He said that energy companies are” already making the transition” to greener technologies and thus do not need tax credits and incentives.

Sinema, by contrast, is rather vague on what she wants in the package and what she opposes. US news media has reported that she supports new programs to promote clean energy and penalize businesses, but also wants to tax the rich.




A beachgoer watches as cleanup workers search for contaminated sand and seaweed along the mostly empty Huntington Beach about one week after an oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 9, 2021 in California. (AFP/File Photo)

Biden has spent hours meeting with congressional members of his party, especially Manchin and Sinema, in an attempt to convince them to back him before he travels to Europe for COP26 the end of the month.

Climate change is a high-priority issue for Biden and his administration. He made this clear when he signed an executive order for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement the day he took office.

He considers climate change “everybody’s crisis,” and has called on the US to be serious about the “code red” danger of global warming. He has put his fight against climate change in the context of saving the planet, while his administration has framed it as a national security threat and an integral part of its foreign policy agenda.

This concern about climate change is shared by the US public — but along partisan lines.

Polls show that the climate provisions are very important to Democrat voters. One poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 83 percent of Democrats are very concerned about climate change. Such sentiments are not shared by the Republicans, of whom only 21 percent said that they are concerned.

When the president put his full weight behind his two bills, it amounted to a whole-of-government approach to the climate part of his agenda. Lobbying for climate action got a boost when the White House, Pentagon and the intelligence community put out two reports linking climate change and global security risks.

The Washington Post said: “Together, the reports show a deepening concern within the US security establishment that the shifts unleashed by climate change can reshape US strategic interests, offer new opportunities to rivals such as China, and increase instability in nuclear states such as North Korea and Pakistan.”

The Pentagon is reportedly incorporating “climate issues into its security strategy,” and is worried “that climate change could lead to state failure,” according to the newspaper.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement: “Climate change is altering the strategic landscape and shaping the security environment, posing complex threats to the US and nations around the world.”

Austin considers it important for the Department of Defense to understand the way that climate change affects missions and capabilities if the US wants to protect itself and deter war.

Another report, The Financial Stability Oversight, cited by Axios, referred to climate change as an “emerging threat” to US economic stability, adding that the administration is “factoring climate risk into planning at the Department of the Treasury.”




A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The FSOC, headed by Janet Yellen, “views climate related financial risks as an emerging threat to the financial stability of the US.” All these efforts by the administration and its departments were seen by the media as “warning measures” before the UN conference.

The Democrats are negotiating over a smaller package now and Biden has reportedly told party members that a package of up to $1.9 trillion is now the goal of the negotiations.

Other reports put the number at $2 trillion. Although this is a much smaller package than the originally proposed $3.5 trillion, it is closer to what Manchin wants and has a better chance of being accepted.

Despite the reductions, Biden has said that the Democrats are keeping the climate provisions in the infrastructure bill regardless of the opposition from Manchin.

There are also reports that a key component of Biden’s climate agenda, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, has been dropped from the final version of the budget bill. The $150 billion program, which is designed to replace coal-and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy, is opposed by Manchin.

If the reports are true, the setback to President Biden’s climate policy and ambitions for the Glasgow conference would be huge. The program could “account for 42 percent of emissions reduction targets when tax credits are included,” according to news reports.

 




Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that any “Glasgow setback would carry reputational risk matching that of former president Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement again.”

Biden met with Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last Sunday in Delaware to try to reach a compromise. The negotiations are about what to cut and what to keep in the reconciliation bill, and how to pay for it. They are hoping to clinch a deal this coming Wednesday.

The numbers are getting closer to what Manchin wants. But while progress has been made as the White House said, the deal is not a sure bet yet. Until that happens and Congress votes on the bills, the US position in COP26 will remain tenuous.

COP26 in Glasgow was supposed to be the “America is back” moment on climate. It is important for the world to have the US back, especially on climate action, but if Biden arrives empty-handed there will be little hope for a breakthrough.

The summit might not deliver on a global emergency that has the slogan “our house is on fire.” The international fire brigade will be coming to put out the fire without the fire extinguishers. No one at the Glasgow conference will take their fire-fighting efforts seriously.

This is why the Democrats have to get their act together and unite on this. It is their only chance to “save the planet” — something Biden says he wants to do.


UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
Updated 05 December 2021

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
  • Girls, young women were coerced into traveling to northeast Syria, where “rape, forced marriage were widespread”

LONDON: The grieving families of British “Daesh brides” were treated as suspects and criminals by police, The Observer has reported.

Several family members of girls and young women who had traveled to join Daesh described being “treated as criminals” and used as sources of intelligence by the authorities.

One individual said that their home was raided and searched after they informed police of their daughter’s decision to join Daesh in Syria.

The revelations came during a parliamentary session last week. The media were prohibited from reporting on the session due to harassment concerns, but separately, four of the families later gave accounts of their experiences to The Observer.

They warned that their daughters have been “left stranded” in Syrian refugee camps.

One woman said that her sister had traveled to Syria. However, after she had informed and cooperated with police, she learned that officers were uninterested in locating her sibling.

“We thought the police were there to help us. Over time, we could see the police and the authorities weren’t talking to us to help us, but only to get information. Once they had their information, they washed their hands of us,” she said.

“We were never offered any support. I felt I had to prove I was anti-extremist to them. I felt I was always under suspicion.”

Another person said: “I was interrogated as if I was a suspect, and once they had decided I wasn’t, they didn’t really want anything to do with me. It became really difficult to get in touch with them.”

Many of the families warned that the UK government had abandoned the presumption of innocence when it came to their children.

One said: “Normally, it is Western governments that talk about human rights and trafficking. However, when it is my family who have been abused and trafficked, they have decided not even to investigate their cases. They are considered guilty just for being in Syria.

“Women and children are being punished without a trial. I don’t know why Britain has decided to abandon its principles in my family’s case.”

Another family member said: “I felt really betrayed. I’ve now lost faith in the people who are supposed to help and protect us. We don’t have our rights any longer.”

The claims come in the wake of a report from legal charity Reprieve that found that many of the Daesh brides initially traveled to the war-torn country due to coercion and trafficking.

Once there, the report warned, exploitation, forced marriage and rape were widespread within Daesh territory.

There are now about 20 UK families stranded in former Daesh territories in Syria, but the UK Home Office has repeatedly denied the repatriation of women and children.

Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary and chair of the all-party parliamentary group that heard the testimonies, said: “If the government would only listen to these families, it would surely realize the inhumanity and sheer wrongheadedness of abandoning British citizens in desert detention camps.

“This terrible policy is affecting ordinary law-abiding families and fraying the fabric of our multicultural society. Whether from a security perspective or a moral one, the case for repatriation could not be more clear.”

Former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi said: “Many of us in parliament are very concerned by what is happening here, particularly in relation to the precedent that it sets.”

Maya Foa, Reprieve director, said that families in the camps were “stripped of all rights, presumed guilty without a trial, subjected to violence and abandoned by the government.”

Foa warned that the government “appeared to be seeking to inflict maximum harm on this group — which is mostly British children — to make some kind of political point.”

One family member heard during the session said: “All I want to ask the government is; you had every opportunity to protect her and failed, how can you now wash your hands of her?”


India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
Updated 05 December 2021

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
  • The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21

MUMBAI: India on Sunday reported its highest single-day COVID-19 deaths since July after two states revised their death tolls.
The eastern state of Bihar added 2,426 unrecorded deaths while the southern state of Kerala added 263 deaths to their tallies on Sunday, a federal health ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21, according to a Reuters tally.
A devastating second wave in March and April this year saw thousands of deaths and millions affected.
Indian states have continued to add unreported COVID-19 deaths in recent months, lending weight to some medical experts’ opinions that such deaths are much higher than the reported number of 473,326.


Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
Updated 05 December 2021

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
  • Local media reports said Indian security forces had mistakenly opened fire on civilians
  • It was unclear what led to the incident in the state bordering Myanmar

GAUHATI, India: Angry villagers burned army vehicles in protest after more than a dozen people were killed by soldiers who mistakenly believed some of them were militants in India’s remote northeast region along the border with Myanmar, officials said Sunday.
Nagaland state’s top elected official Neiphiu Rio ordered a probe into the killings, which occurred on Saturday, and he tweeted, “The unfortunate incident leading to the killing of civilians at Oting is highly condemnable.”
An army officer said the soldiers fired at a truck after receiving intelligence about a movement of insurgents in the area and killed six people. As irate villagers burned two army vehicles, the soldiers fired at them, killing seven more people, the officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
One soldier was also killed in the clash with protesters, he said.
Insurgents often cross into Myanmar after attacking Indian government forces in the remote area.
Nyamtow Konyak, a local community leader, said those killed were coal miners.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah expressed anguish over the “unfortunate incident” and said the state government will investigate the killings.
The army officer said the soldiers had laid an ambush for a week following intelligence that insurgents were planning to attack soldiers in the area, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.
Government forces are battling dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote northeast whose demands range from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India.

Related


Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

JAKARTA: Ten people trapped after Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupted have been evacuated to safety, the country’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, as the death toll from the disaster climbed to at least 13 and with dozens injured.
Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java island, threw up towers of ash and hot clouds on Saturday that blanketed nearby villages in East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic.
The eruption severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang and wrecked buildings, authorities said.
BNPB official Abdul Muhari said in a news release that 13 people have been killed after the eruption, two of whom have been identified. Ninety-eight have been injured, including two pregnant women, and 902 have been evacuated, the statement said.

Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption as seen from Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

Thoriqul Haq, a local official in Lumajang, said earlier that sand miners had been trapped around their work sites.
BNPB said at least 35 people had been hospitalized, while Lumajang’s deputy head said 41 people suffered burns.
Semeru, more than 3,600 meters (12,000 feet) high, is one of Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes. It erupted in January, causing no casualties.
Indonesia straddles the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth’s crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.
Separately, an earthquake of magnitude 6 struck north of Halmahera on Sunday, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said. Halmahera is about 2,000 km


Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov

MOSCOW: Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak in a video call Tuesday, the White House and Kremlin said, as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate over a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border that’s seen as a sign of a potential invasion.
Biden will press US concerns about Russian military activities on the border and “reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday, confirming the planned call after first word came from Moscow.
Putin will come to the call with concerns of his own and intends to express Russia’s opposition to any move to admit Ukraine into the NATO military alliance. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the presidents will decide themselves” how long their talk will last.
The last known call between the leaders was in July, when Biden pressed Putin to rein in Russia-based criminal hacking gangs launching ransomware attacks against the United States. Biden said the US would take any necessary steps to protect critical infrastructure from such attacks.
Ransomware attacks have continued since then, though perhaps none has been as alarming as the one from May that targeted a major fuel pipeline and resulted in days of gas shortages in parts of the US
Russia is more adamant than ever that the US guarantees that Ukraine will not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. But NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said this past week that Russia has no say in expansion plans by other countries or the alliance. Numerous former US and NATO diplomats say any such Russian demand to Biden would be a nonstarter.
US intelligence officials, meanwhile, have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year, according to a Biden administration official who was not authorized to discuss that finding publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The risks for Putin of going through with such an invasion would be enormous.
US officials and former American diplomats say while the Russian president is clearly laying the groundwork for a possible invasion, Ukraine’s military is better armed and prepared today than in the past, and that sanctions threatened by the West would do serious damage to the Russian economy.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be, will be, the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden said Friday.
Ukrainian officials have said Russia could invade next month. Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.
Russia and Akhmetov have denied that any plot is underway, but the Russians have become more explicit recently in their warnings to Ukraine and the United States.
Biden is also expected to speak with Zelenskyy in the coming week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian leader. This person was not authorized to comment publicly before the announcement of the call and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Kremlin said Friday that Putin, during his call with Biden, would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. Biden tried to head off the demand in comments to reporters Friday before leaving for a weekend stay at Camp David.
“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said.
Psaki said in a brief statement Saturday that Biden and Putin will discuss a range of topics in the US-Russia relationship, “including strategic stability, cyber, and regional issues.”
She said Friday that the administration would coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She alluded to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954. Russia has also backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a 7-year conflict that has cost over 14,000 lives.
“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.”
US-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.
His administration has imposed sanctions against Russian targets and called out Putin for the Kremlin’s interference in US elections, cyberactivity against American companies and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later imprisoned.
When Putin and Biden met in Geneva in June, Biden warned that if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating.”