President Obama’s promise to be the most transparent administration in history is proving to be true with regard to the recent appointment of John Podesta as his high-profile congressional circumvention strategist. Podesta’s belief in government by fiat is clear. As he wrote in a 2010 Center for American Progress report, “[executive power] presents a real opportunity for the Obama Administration to turn its focus away from a divided Congress and the unappetizing process of making legislative sausage.”
Amidst scandals and a disastrous ObamaCare rollout, Politico writer Glenn Thrush reported that White House insiders told him Podesta’s hiring “represents the clearest sign to date that the administration’s interest is shifting the paradigm of Obama’s presidency through the forceful, unapologetic and occasionally provocative application of White House power.”
Expressing little respect for constitutional separation of powers or for policy opposition, Podesta reportedly told Thrush: “They [the Executive Branch] need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress.”
Podesta can be expected to push Obama to act upon his executive authority to circumvent a Congress which the administration sees as unwilling and unable to pass legislation on climate change or much else. Politico reports that “Podesta has been urging Obama for three years to use the full extent of his authority as president to go around Congress.”
Presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney makes no bones about that priority. The Hill reports him saying: “Podesta will help implement executive actions where necessary when we can’t get cooperation out of Congress.”
Who is John Podesta?
Here’s a little background. First of all, he heads the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP), a 501(c)(3) liberal think tank which has emerged to become a driving force behind current White House agendas and messaging. CAP is also the parent organization of Campus Progress, a center that publishes a daily e-mail progress report described by National Review as “The most aggressive, most energetic opposition research in politics.”
In 2009 CAP launched a “Progressive Media” war room as a joint project of its 501(c)(4) Action Fund and the Media Matters Action Network to ratchet up efforts of a united liberal front. According to SourceWatch, Progressive Media coordinates closely with the “Common Purpose Project,” an effort to “create message discipline among pro-Obama organizations, with a direct tie to the White House.”
John Podesta is no stranger to Democrat White House residents. He served as chief of staff to President Clinton during his second-term Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings, and led President Obama’s transition team following the 2008 election as an “outside advisor”.
The Washington Post reports that Podesta remains to be “…an influential voice within the Clinton political orbit, informally advising Hillary Rodham Clinton since she stepped down as secretary of state. In the past few weeks, he was in talks to help lead Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that supported Obama in 2012 and is positing itself to back Clinton if she runs for president in 2016.”
Last fall Podesta founded the Washington “Center for Equitable Growth,” a group within CAP that will expand class warfare messaging directed to income redistribution. This can be expected to be a central Obama/Clinton theme going forward.
As the New York Times reported, he “has occasionally criticized the administration, if gently, from his perch as the founder and former president of the Center for American Progress, a center-left public policy research group that has provided personnel and policy ideas to the administration.”
He will now be advising very much from the inside. According to the Times, he will help out on health care and “will focus in particular on climate change issues, a personal priority of Mr. Podesta’s.”
Elevating Climate Politics to New Lows:
Never mind that having witnessed the past 17 years of flat global temperatures despite ballyhooed record atmospheric CO2 levels, John Podesta is hell-bent to reheat regulatory assaults on carbon emissions. In doing so he now officially joins the political ranks of Gina McCarthy, who proposed draconian carbon emission limits on new coal-fired power plants shortly after she was confirmed to lead EPA last July.
The New York Times observes that his appointment “…will further elevate the issue of climate change.” An article by Robert Semple, Jr., states: “Mr. Podesta’s main task will be to give the Environmental Protection Agency the support it needs to devise new rules controlling greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants…”
Podesta told New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza that climate-change policy through expansive use of executive power would serve as fertile ground if Obama wanted to get anything accomplished during his second term. Lizza’s take-away from that interview is: “Without any involvement from Congress, Obama’s EPA can implement regulations to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and the President could set a new course on energy policy by cancelling Keystone.”
Climate vs. Keystone XL Pipeline Decision:
Grist, an organization which periodically reprints posts from Climate Progress, a CAP blog, observes: “President Obama is getting a new high-level adviser who cares a lot about climate change and doesn’t care much at all for the Keystone XL pipeline.” That arrival is coming at a time soon before a final environmental impact assessment by the State Department will recommend whether TransCanada’s plan to deliver crude oil from Alberta, Canada tar sands is environmentally acceptable. Assuming the verdict is positive, Obama will then have 90 days to decide if the pipeline is “in the national interest”.
As an outspoken long-time Keystone critic, Podesta has aligned himself with other powerful-pipeline opponents who include billionaire Democrat supporter Tom Steyer. In December his CAP and Steyer’s NextGen political action committee co-sponsored a daylong anti-Keystone conference in Washington. Both argued that the development couldn’t pass the litmus test set by Obama last June … namely, that it could only be approved if it didn’t significantly exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions.
Steyer previously threatened Obama in an open letter that he better reject Keystone or otherwise face an organized rebellion from some of his most loyal supporters. It stated: “Given that none of the chief arguments being put forth by supporters of the pipeline remain standing, NextGen Action is going to be working with our friends and allies who are opposed to the development of Keystone XL to intensify our efforts in communicating what is the right policy choice to your Administration.” The letter warned: “On June 20, in Washington D.C. we will announce a campaign that will specifically focus on communicating to those Americans across the country that supported your election in 2012.”
Although a White House aide claims that Podesta will recuse himself from working on the Keystone pipeline decision, don’t imagine that strong opinions of Obama’s influential climate science advisor on the matter won’t carry weight. The aide wrote in an e-mail to The New Yorker that, “In discussions with Denis [White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough], John suggested that he not work on the Keystone Pipeline issue, in review at the State Department, given that the review is far along in the process and John’s views on this are well known. Denis agreed that was the best course of action.”
Evidencing intent to gain political cover, the e-mail observed: “Podesta’s climate change portfolio will therefore be limited largely to overseeing implementation of EPA regulations, which are already moving along, and not the far more controversial and politically sensitive decision about the pipeline.”
Yet InsideClimate News observed: “[A]s the various interests in the Keystone decision make their final arguments at the White House, Podesta could not be better positioned as a particularly close advisor to voice his own views — and to debunk the arguments of those who favor the tar sands pipeline.”
Some Other Environmental Impacts to Consider:
Podesta’s decision to join the White House staff will have broad environmental policy implications beyond climate and energy. He played a critical role in shaping Bill Clinton’s environmental record while serving as White House chief of staff between 1998 and 2000. This influence included designations of several national monuments which put millions of acres of land off limits to development.
One important aspect of Podesta’s new White House role is to advise decisions regarding leases and permits for energy development and mining projects on federal lands. As The Hill reports, this may not bode well for approval of massive copper and gold mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska. CAP has voiced strong opposition to the project.
Most of all, John Podesta’s appointment carries clear and ominous implications for the political environment. Writing in Townhall, Conn Carrol urges extreme caution regarding the selection of “Obama’s new counselor, the man in charge of saving his presidency, [who] believes the Republican Party is a murderous cult and that this justifies Obama’s extra-constitutional use of executive power.”
Carrol warns Republicans who plan to work with Democrats on immigration reform and other issues consider one reality. “Whatever legislation you write with Democrats, and Obama signs into ‘law,’ will not be worth the paper it is printed on. Republicans are evil and therefore Obama ought to be empowered to do whatever he wants no matter what the law says. That is the new normal in Washington so long as Obama is still President.”