The outlook for Joe Biden’s climate agenda went from bad to worse last week. On Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he would not support a reconciliation bill that includes climate or tax provisions. The next day Biden exchanged a chummy fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after promising to make Saudi Arabia a pariah following the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi our CIA blamed on MBS. Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah excoriated Biden arguing that “this entire, disgraceful visit — is a crass betrayal of a campaign promise he made to the American people.”
The wheels came off Biden’s presidency because he doesn’t seem to understand why these two events are connected.
As Manchin warned on Wednesday, “[It] is time for us to work together to get unnecessary spending under control, produce more energy at home and take more active and serious steps to address this record inflation that now poses a clear and present danger to our economy … no matter what spending aspirations some in Congress may have, it is clear to anyone who visits a grocery store or a gas station that we cannot add any more fuel to this inflation fire.”
As the C3 Action poll recently found, Manchin is right about what the American people want. Voters want policymakers to recycle government waste, not create more, and worked toward American energy security with an “all of the above” energy strategy.
Biden, unfortunately, is listening to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who wrongly argued, “you have people like Manchin, [Arizona Sen. Kyrsten] Sinema to a lesser degree, who are intentionally sabotaging the President’s agenda, what the American people want.”
But the American people don’t want what Sanders wants. They want what Manchin, and most Republicans, want.
Yet Biden continues to listen to Sanders. The purpose of Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia was to play the shell game his progressive base wants him to play. The rules of that game say that if policymakers demonize fossil fuels at home and “go green” domestically they’ll be forgiven for shifting emissions abroad. This is dumb scientifically (greenhouse gases ignore borders) and dangerous politically. When Europe played this shell game with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he responded by invading Ukraine. Today, Biden’s progressive base is essentially saying they would rather fill barrels with dissolved American journalists than American oil. The left’s visceral disgust of American production sent Biden to Saudi Arabia to beg for oil, which directly strengthens the hand of a murderous autocrat and gives him tacit permission to commit unspeakable crimes.
In fairness to Biden, American presidents have a long history of dealing with unsavory characters to advance the national interest. As Republican statesman James Baker often noted, you can’t formulate foreign policy according to the principles of Mother Teresa. Yet, when President Reagan tried to make good deals with bad people, he at least had a strategy for achieving a net gain for the cause of freedom by diminishing the power of Soviet totalitarianism.
The Biden Saudi Arabia strategy has been nonexistent and he has achieved nothing from his visit other than projecting weakness. MBS didn’t agree to increase production, and, even if he had, it’s unlikely he could do much to pull Biden out of the inflation fire. We import only 5 percent of our oil from Saudi Arabia.
A better approach for Biden is to try something he hasn’t yet – listen to not just Manchin but Republicans who care about environmental stewardship as much as he does but don’t see the need to play shell games with authoritarians. Biden’s shortlist could include members like Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AK), Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and others.
A summit at the White House with Republicans might persuade Biden to stop blocking policies that would increase our refining capacity, speed up permitting, ease restrictions on nuclear energy, fix the Jones Act that artificially increases the price of oil and build a supply chain of critical minerals for renewables by allowing new mining in America. Nick Loris, VP of Public Policy for C3 Solutions, has a wonderful to-do list for people who are serious about climate change in the Climate and Freedom Agenda.
Politics is the art of the possible. It’s long past time for Biden to consider possibilities he hasn’t explored. Instead of demonizing Republicans, talk to them.