President Obama’s climate team met with Senate Democrats behind closed doors on Tuesday to rally support for new emissions rules that have divided the party.
Climate adviser John Podesta and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough sought to calm a Senate Democratic conference worried about how the rules would play out in this fall’s battle for the Senate.
“John just basically handed out their position,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), one of several Democrats from heavy coal-producing states who have expressed concern about the new rules.
“He is going to meet with me next week, and we are going to sit down and go through it,” Manchin said. “There was no question and answer today. He made his presentation, and he’s going to talk to each one of us individually.”
The new rules require existing power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It’s by far the most controversial move by the administration to date to mitigate climate change.
After their introduction on Monday, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat hoping to unseat Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), promised to fiercely oppose them.
But on Tuesday, applause was heard multiple times coming during the lunch meeting, and most Democrats refrained from criticizing the rules to reporters when it was concluded.
There were a few exceptions.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), who is up for reelection this year, slammed the administration for sidestepping Congress, which she said should have control over climate policy.
And Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska), another vulnerable Democrat up for reelection, said he was concerned about the flexibility that power plants in his home state would have to meet the targets.
The White House has promised to provide support for Democrats to back the rules, which the administration says would dramatically improve public health by reducing soot and sulfur dioxide emissions, which have been linked to cases of heart and lung disease.
“We are definitely interested in strong efforts to debunk the false attacks on this rule,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich told The Hill Tuesday. “We will be vigilant about rebutting those attacks and about making sure that Democrats that want to help have the information they need and understand why these attacks are false.”
Leading up to the proposal of the rule, EPA chief Gina McCarthy held hundreds of meetings to discuss the rules. Podesta held numerous talks with Senate and House Democrats, and Obama’s climate czar, Dan Utech, held calls with CEOs from utilities across the country.
Obama spoke to some House and Senate Democrats on Sunday to thank them for supporting the rule.
Lehrich said McCarthy, Podesta and other officials would aggressively promote the rules in the coming weeks. McCarthy, for example, will host a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session on Tuesday night about it.