John Podesta: There’s No Time Left for ‘Moderate’ Climate Solutions


by Julia Pyper, host and producer of Political Climate

John Podesta has had a long and distinguished career in American politics. The veteran Democrat official recalls a time when Members of Congress were open to working across the political aisle, the debate was healthy and the resulting policies were less prone to repeal. But today he says that’s no longer the case. 

On climate policy in particular, Podesta believes that the U.S. will remain in gridlock until Republicans see that their strategy of obstructing climate action is going to cost them elections. If Joe Biden wins the presidency, Podesta anticipates that Republican lawmakers will continue to block climate policies, especially if Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains the Republican leader.

I don’t see them participating in a way that is conducive to trying to find common sense solutions,” Podesta said this week in an exclusive interview with the Political Climate podcast.


Why This Matters: Through the campaign, Climate Power 2020, Podesta and other seasoned Democrats are pushing to make climate change an integral part of the 2020 election. As former counselor to President Barack Obama, Podesta became an architect of the administration’s ambitious rules for curbing carbon pollution from cars and power plants. In 2016, Podesta served as chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, which failed. Four years later and several of Podesta’s climate policies have been dismantled by the Trump administration. 

But the 71-year-old says he isn’t giving up on the fight against climate change. Instead, he’s pushing candidates up and down the ballot to campaign aggressively on climate solutions and calling out the Trump administration for ignoring climate science at the expense of future generations. Why is he making climate change a priority in today’s high-stakes election? Because of the high stakes of inaction.

It is my view — and has been my view for a long time — that what campaigns do, what they focus on, what candidates promise, is, in fact, what they do if they’re successful when they get into office,” he said. “So drawing attention to the climate crisis I think is critical if we expect action on the climate crisis in 2021.”


No Time To Waste: With the impacts of climate change already being felt today and global warming projections growing more dire, Podesta believes that the moment for incremental action on climate change has come and gone. 

We don’t have a day, a week, a month to waste — we wasted all that time from 1990 to the present. We could have been doing things that were probably on a bipartisan basis, and probably at a more moderate level, that would put us in a position that was quite different from today. But now we really do have a crisis.”


Ditch the Filibuster?: Biden’s only option, if elected, is to take bold action, in Podesta’s view. That may include eliminating the Senate filibuster, a parliamentary rule that’s used to block or delay legislative action unless 60 of the 100 senators vote to end it. The rule has stymied Democratic lawmakers’ repeated efforts to pass policies on gun control, immigration reform and climate change.

“I think if Biden has a majority, he’s just going to have to use it. And that might mean getting rid of the filibuster, or using budget reconciliation where you can do that, which only requires 51 votes,” said Podesta. “If he doesn’t, I think he’ll be faced with the situation Obama was faced with in 2011, after the 2010 election, where the House just really wouldn’t go along with anything that he wanted to do.” 

Other prominent Democrats, including Joe Biden, have expressed openness to ditching the filibuster in recent weeks. 

Go Deeper:
Listen to the full interview with John Podesta on Political Climate to learn how he would advise a Biden presidency to address climate change, including actions the new administration could take within its first 100 days.


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