The Memo: Biden goes green to allay left's fears

The Memo: Biden goes green to allay left's fears

Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE is seizing on climate change to help him allay the fears of progressive Democrats without endangering his hold on moderate voters.

On Tuesday, the 2020 Democratic front-runner released a climate change plan that went beyond the positions held by the Obama administration, in which he served as vice president. His proposals drew praise from environmental groups.

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Biden is calling for the investment of $1.7 trillion in “our clean energy future and environmental justice.” His goal is to make the United States carbon neutral by 2050. 

He also proposes rejoining the Paris climate agreement and claims that proper investment in green technology could deliver more than 10 million new jobs.

Biden also has a larger political goal, however — to rebut the charge that he is too cautious and too centrist for a Democratic Party where progressives are in the ascendant.

In a video posted on his campaign website, the former vice president promised, “I will not accept half-measures” and pledged to enact “revolutionary changes.”

The backstory to those remarks includes a Reuters report last month — furiously denied by Biden’s team — that he was planning a “middle ground” approach on climate change.

Biden’s closest rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (I-Vt.), weaponized the same phrase, though without mentioning Biden, at the California Democratic Party convention on Sunday. 

“We have got to make it clear that when the future of the planet is at stake, there is no ‘middle ground,’” Sanders told the crowd. “We will take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system.” 

Democrats who spoke to The Hill saw Biden’s new climate policy as a smart way to address his Achilles' heel.

One strategist, Jess McIntosh, said, “His team knows that they need to figure out how he can be his authentic self and at the same time appeal to a base that is largely more progressive than he is.”

She added that “climate change seems like a really good way for him to signal that he is not just a centrist.”

Green issues are, in one important way, less complicated for Biden than other hot-button topics in the Democratic primary, where his long legislative history poses knottier problems. 

For example, his support for a 1994 crime bill is widely seen as a potential vulnerability, given its role in driving up incarceration rates, especially among nonwhite citizens. By contrast, Biden introduced the first climate change bill in the Senate back in 1986.

“This is an area where he has demonstrated leadership for a long time,” said Tad Devine, a veteran of past Democratic presidential campaigns who is not working for any candidate this cycle. Now, Devine added, “people have finally caught up with the issue.”

Biden’s proposals are not quite as ambitious as those of some other candidates, nor do they exactly replicate the so-called Green New Deal pushed by progressive icon Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasts Tucker Carlson as 'white supremacist sympathizer' Julián Castro jabs ICE: 'Delete your account' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyWarren proposes 'Blue New Deal' to protect oceans There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trump administration drops plan to face scan all travelers leaving or entering US MORE (D-Mass.).

Another major 2020 candidate, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (D-Mass.), advanced her own plan Tuesday, which calls for $2 trillion in spending compared to Biden’s $1.7 trillion. Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday noted that the Green New Deal calls for the U.S. to be carbon neutral by 2030 rather than the 2050 deadline set by Biden.

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeFight against flavored e-cigarettes goes local Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Bullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate MORE (D), whose 2020 presidential bid is largely predicated on his approach to climate change, told reporters on Tuesday that Biden’s plans “lack teeth.”

On the flip side, however, Republicans — including President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE’s reelection team — sought to portray Biden’s announcement as evidence that he was being pushed leftward by the dynamics of the Democratic primary. 

They asserted that Biden was sure to end up outside the national mainstream.

In an email to reporters, a Republican National Committee spokesman accused Biden of having “officially caved to the radical left.”

Erin Perrine, deputy communications director for the Trump 2020 campaign, told The Hill that “if they want to win the nomination, all of the Democrats will ultimately have no choice but embrace the Green New Deal, which is just a wish list of unrealistic, socialist policy ideals.”

Democrats push back against that idea — and not only because of their own policy beliefs. They say that the GOP underestimates how much the nation has moved on the issue of climate change, as its effects have become apparent in the here and now. 

Young voters, in particular, regard it as a vital issue, they say.

Opinion polls provide some support for the Democratic position. In a Gallup Poll in March, respondents were asked whether environmental protections should be prioritized even at the risk of slowing the economy or whether they would prefer the reverse approach, placing the economy first.

Respondents favored putting the environment first by a huge margin: 65 percent to 30 percent. It was by far the widest gap in more than 10 years of Gallup polling on the issue. 

Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky insisted that there was no real electoral danger to Biden in taking an assertive position on the issue, given its increasing centrality to political debate.

Even in a general election, she said, “I don’t think the fact that climate change is an issue is denied by anybody at all, except for the Luddites who would not be voting for Joe Biden anyways.”

Beyond that, however, there could be one more advantage for the 76-year-old Biden. 

A focus on climate plans puts the focus on the future, not the past. That could be a vital pivot for a presidential candidate first elected to the Senate in 1972.

“Getting back to the future is his biggest challenge,” said Devine. “He doesn’t want this [campaign] to be a referendum on the past, or on his past. He wants this to be about the next four years — not the past 40.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.