Sen Whitehouse Worries Climate Is Falling Out Of Infrastructure Talks

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) (Photo by Jason Andrew-Pool/Getty Images)
June 7, 2021 4:36 p.m.

Wrangling over the infrastructure deal is putting the bill’s climate provisions at risk, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) warned in a Monday tweet thread.

“I’m officially very anxious about climate legislation,” Whitehouse tweeted.

Joe Biden remains in discussions with Republican senators as Democrats continue to try to negotiate a bipartisan infrastructure bill, a priority of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The status of those negotiations remain broadly unclear, though a Republican counteroffer released last month proposed virtually no spending on climate compared to the original Biden proposal.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the GOP proposal currently “did not meet the President’s bar of growing the economy, tackling the climate crisis and creating new jobs.” A $1.7 trillion Democratic counteroffer released on May 21 demanded that Republican negotiators come back with an offer that included more money for electric vehicles, environmental cleanup, and other climate priorities.

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Negotiations over the package remain somewhat opaque, as do which provisions may be on the table and which may already have been cast aside.

In the thread, Whitehouse warned that climate had “fallen out of the infrastructure discussion, as it took its bipartisanship detour.”

He also went on to bemoan infighting among progressive activists seeking climate legislation, saying that they were “quarreling.”

Apart from the fact of his speaking up, it’s not clear what impact Whitehouse’s comments may have on ongoing negotiations over a potential infrastructure deal.

If Biden drops negotiations with Republicans and convinces Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to support an infrastructure bill passed through the reconciliation process, it’s also unclear what the contours of that bill would be.

Whitehouse suggested in the thread that he did not see the White House laying the groundwork for close votes on climate, without specifying whether that would be a reconciliation vote or a vote that would have to clear an inevitable filibuster.

“I don’t see the preparatory work for a close Senate climate vote taking place in the administration,” Whitehouse said.

The tweet thread comes as climate activists move to heighten concerns about the bill. The Sunrise Movement, a key climate change advocacy group, held a protest outside the White House on Friday aimed at bringing attention to the issue.

At the same time, Biden remains engaged in negotiations where it’s unclear what’s a feint and what may be a real concession or point of tension. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the lead GOP negotiator, has not publicly made any significant concessions to the Democratic side, but has expressed a willingness to keep talking as the legislative calendar winds its way towards next year’s midterms.

On the Democratic side, Biden has been leading negotiations with Senate Republicans. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Sunday that “The president still has hope, Joe Manchin still has hope” for a compromise with the GOP but added that “I will tell you the House will start their markup on Wednesday.”

Whitehouse’s tweets, as public and pointed as they are, come in this environment, where little is known about the internal state of play in the negotiations and what a bill might look like should the Democrats decide to move on to reconciliation.

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