Kerry: Chamber climate letter may be 'Nixon to China moment'

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), co-author of the Senate's cap-and-trade proposal, on Wednesday suggested that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce could have a "Nixon to China moment" on climate change.

Kerry said that the upper chamber needs to "test" the Chamber's potential support based on a letter it sent to the Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) backing bipartisan negotiations on its climate bill.

On his Twitter account, Kerry said:

US Chamber letter urges action on climate change, need to test whether this is a Nixon to China moment.

He referenced President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China, which has lent itself to a saying meant to describe an uncharacteristic political act. 

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The Chamber in June opposed the House's version of climate change legislation, calling it a "job killing measure." The business group has recently found itself between the White House's crosshairs for its opposition to its key legislative initiatives, including the cap-and-trade climate bill.

Republicans on the EPW committee have attempted to stall the negotiations by boycotting committee hearings on the bill, saying it needs more study from experts. Chairman Boxer has said she would like her panel to pass a bill before the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

The test about which Kerry spoke may be in response to a warning from top Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten. He wrote in the letter:

The Chamber will continue to oppose bad policies that resemble the failed climate proposals of the past, such as bills that jeopardize American jobs, create trade inequalities, leave open the Clean Air Act, open the door to CO2-based mass tort litigation, and further hamper the permitting process for clean energy.

He concluded, however:

But the Chamber believes Senators Kerry, Graham, and the other named Senators have taken a constructive and positive stand on global climate change and energy security, rising above partisan politics and opening a real discussion on how to address this important issue.

Josten's letter also praised an October New York Times op-ed by Kerry and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) that called for "aggressive reductions in our emissions of the carbon gases that cause climate change."

Cross-posted to the Briefing Room