Dems shrug after Biden fails to mention landmark climate law

By Emma Dumain, Kelsey Brugger | 03/08/2024 06:27 AM EST

The president didn’t reference the Inflation Reduction Act in his speech Thursday. One Democrat called the law’s name a “technical term.”

President Joe Biden poses for a selfie.

President Joe Biden at his State of the Union speech Thursday. Democrats gave the address high marks, though some wished he'd spoken more on climate. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Congressional Democrats have been saying for months that President Joe Biden needs to do a better job of selling the climate wins of the Inflation Reduction Act to the American people.

But in his animated State of the Union speech Thursday night — just under eight months away from Election Day — Biden didn’t mention the name of the historic climate law once.

Rather, Biden decided to speak broadly about the billions of dollars spent on green investments and the thousands of jobs created as a result of those investments during his time in office.


“I’m taking the most significant action on climate ever in the history of the world,” Biden declared. “I am cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030.”

The president rattled off a few provisions of the 2022 climate and social spending package, which pumped $369 billion into clean energy initiatives, including creating well-paying green energy jobs and expanding the availability of electric vehicles via subsidies.

For the most part, climate hawks on Capitol Hill took little umbrage with the strategy. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called the IRA a “technical term, and we should probably banish it from our vernacular. We should start talking about the benefits of the bill.”

Asked exactly what the climate law should be called, then, Schatz replied, “I think we should break down the parts of the law that are most popular and talk about those.” Those parts, he said, include reducing the cost of prescription medicine and reducing the deficit.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has urged Biden to lean in on climate messaging in his reelection bid, acknowledged the reality that the IRA’s gains have more political salience as economic drivers than concrete steps to address the existential threat of global warming.

He acknowledged that while “my advice would have been to look to the future threat of climate change and address the climate crisis,” the president’s decision Thursday to “focus on the economic gains that he’s achieved — but more to the point, the economic gains that he wants to put forward to the American people — is more important.”

Biden also spoke about jobs created through the CHIPS and Science Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, two signature legislative wins.

At one point he departed from his prepared remarks to rib the dozens of Republicans who voted against those laws but have welcomed the developments, in some cases even taking credit for them.

“Some of you strongly voted against it, but they’re cheering on that money coming in,” Biden said to Republicans, as Democrats applauded and cheered. “If any of you don’t want that money, you let me know.”

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a key architect of the clean energy tax incentives included in the IRA, said this dynamic proved Biden’s policies were getting “results.”

“That’s what I’m interested in,” he continued. “That’s what the public cares about.”

Climate corps promise

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have long pushed for a Civilian Climate Corps. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

Some Democrats wished Biden had made more aggressive pledges to confront climate change — the president hasn’t always satisfied climate progressives, particularly with his greenlighting of the massive Willow project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.

“He still has a lot of fossil fuel friends,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said of Biden following the State of the Union address.

But few Democrats were willing to publicly chastise the Biden immediately following his election-year annual address to the nation.

Biden also generated tremendous goodwill with a promise in his speech to “triple” in this decade the number of young people currently eligible to participate in a green jobs training and placement program called the American Climate Corps.

This initiative, which Biden launched last year through an executive order, is a scaled-back version of the “Civilian Climate Corps” concept embraced by the progressive grassroots and popularized by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

It was at one point on tap to receive billions in the IRA but fell to the wayside when Democrats were forced to make major spending cuts to satisfy moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

On Thursday, Biden’s pledge to grow the universe of climate corps participants to 60,000 drew a standing ovation from Democrats assembled in the House chamber.

“President Biden is already building a better America,” Markey said in a statement, “including by heeding our movement’s call by establishing and now pledging to triple the historic American Climate Corps.”

Thumbs down from GOP

Unsurprisingly, Republicans panned Biden’s energy and environment remarks. House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) released a post-speech statement deriding the president’s “radical rush-to-green agenda,” a familiar refrain from her.

In an interview, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said Biden’s team has “some of the most boneheaded energy policies in American history. … It is incredible, the ignorance or the stupidity that this administration has shown in energy and environmental policy.”

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), a co-chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, complained the Biden administration has “no strategy or plan of how to transition to what they want. … Putting billions of dollars out into the arena to be spent but without actually a plan of how you are going to deliver that increases energy while keeping prices low.”

Asked about the significant boost for the Climate Corps, Miller-Meeks again scoffed at the idea of the federal government “spending money that we don’t have that is all being printed by the Federal Reserve.”

Reporter Rebekah Alvey contributed.