Ex-Obama officials rue missed chances on climate action

By Robin Bravender, Timothy Cama, Kevin Bogardus | 03/25/2024 01:31 PM EDT

In oral histories, senior Democrats recounted how climate legislation took a back seat to President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Then-U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu (right) introduces U.S. President Barack Obama (left).

Then-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (right) and then-President Barack Obama in February 2009. In a newly released interview, Chu said Obama should have used "the power of the presidency" to win lawmakers' votes. Ron Sachs/AFP via Getty Images

The failure to clinch energy and environment legislation in former President Barack Obama’s first term was a “significant missed opportunity,” Obama’s former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a recently released oral history.

Another official, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, went so far to say that Obama should have tried to “shake down” lawmakers to garner votes.

While the massive health care law, the Affordable Care Act, was among the Obama administration’s top legislative priorities, another big priority was sweeping energy and climate legislation.


But that effort ultimately took a back seat to the health care effort and fizzled in the Senate, frustrating senior Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the administration.