Climate politics has taken a 180-degree turn in favor of federal action thanks to the voters of Georgia. The Democrats’ surprising double win in the Peach State’s runoff elections has turned the US Senate from red to blue—or more accurately blue-ish.
With both the House and Senate in Democratic hands, it becomes possible for the incoming Biden administration and the Democrats in Congress to move quickly on a wide range of climate-related matters. Had the Senate remained in Republican control, Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) would have continued playing the Grim Reaper, making good on his vow to keep climate defense measures from ever landing on the Senate floor or the president’s desk.
Rebuilding and repairing federal programs and regulatory schemes needed to combat climate change effectively are themselves daunting tasks. More daunting still is the resistance the Biden administration will encounter in its efforts to work with Congress to enact in 2021…legislation that would put the nation on an irreversible path to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
The Democrats’ 2020 electoral hat trick does not give climate activists carte blanche in terms of policies and programs able to make it through Congress and onto President Biden for signature—even now with a slightly Democratic Senate.
Once Senators-elect Warnock and Ossoff are sworn in, the upper chamber will be evenly divided 50/50 with tie votes to be broken by the Vice President Harris. It assumes that the 50 Democrats will vote in lockstep with each other. As much as I would like to think that possible, decades in Washington have made me more realistic—often to my chagrin.
Blue Dog Senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV) cannot be expected to vote 100 percent of the time along the same lines as Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the new Majority Leader, is going to have exercise a strong hand to keep his caucus in-line.
Manchin has already exhibited his hesitancy to follow along. He was a “No” vote on the Demo-crats’ attempt to raise the second round of pandemic checks to $2000, rather than the $600 that passed. The Senator has four more years on his current term and he represents a solidly red state.
I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there are times when moderate Republican Senators like Collins (ME) or Romney (UT) or Murkowski (AK) cross the aisle in one direction as Manchin does the other. It’s important to keep in mind that Vice President Harris can only vote in the event of a tie.
Speaker Pelosi has only a four-vote majority in the House. Progressive and moderates will find themselves at odds over issues like climate change and healthcare. Biden, Pelosi, and House Majority Whip Clyburn (SC) are old school moderates, which means conflicts with the progres-sives are inevitable. The House too has its Blue Dogs.
Hanging over the House of Representatives, as always, is the prospect of having to run again in two years. Although a third of the Senate will be running in the midterms, all 435 members of the House will be—are already—back on the hustings and Biden hasn’t even taken the oath of office.
The midterms, as I’ll discuss in a moment, are going to be looked at not only by the Democrats. Republicans believe 2022 will be their time to strike to take back the House if not Congress. Although history is on their side, Donald Trump may have thrown spanner into the works. The Republican Party is pulling itself apart in the wake of the insurrection.
Everything the Biden administration and the 117th Congress will debate and decide takes place against a political backdrop. In the following paragraphs, I endeavor to provide readers with an appreciation of today’s politics.
Whatever else might happen, Democratic control of Congress and the White House means an end to the Trump-era assaults and guarantees open debate on Capitol Hill of critically needed responses to climate change. It also means something will get done.
Numbers can be deceiving—seeing red is not the same as being red.
Biden bested Clinton’s 2016 popular vote by over four million and bettered Trump’s 2020 total by nearly seven million. Notwithstanding such substantial differences, Biden’s Electoral Col-lege-count was identical to Trump’s 306 to 232.
The lesson here is one of geography. Where a presidential candidate wins is as critical to suc-cess as the number of votes received.
President-Elect Biden received seven million votes (51.4 percent) more than Trump. The actual difference between the two candidates, however, was 103,900 votes cast in three states. Had Trump taken from Biden 11,800 votes in Georgia, 10,457 in Arizona, and 81,660 in Pennsylvania, he would have won a total of 278 electoral votes and another four years in office.
The narrow margins of victory in the 2016 and 2020 presidential races should make Repub-licans and Democrats nervous about their presidential candidates’ staying power. Democrats, in particular, should be worried.
According to Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist,
…the Electoral College has shifted from advantaging Democrats to disadvantaging Democrats. A Democratic candidate must now win the national popular vote by a much larger margin in order to assure a victory in the electoral vote.
The other oddity of Biden’s victory was his failure to increase the number of Democrats in Congress. Known as the coattail effect, a successful first-term president traditionally brings with him a romp of representatives and senators of his own party him into the winner’s circle.
Figure 1 shows that Biden is coming into office besting only President Kennedy in having the weakest House of Representative coattails of any president since FDR in 1932.
Figure 2 reflects how Biden compares to other presidents elected during a time of crisis, e.g., economic depressions, recessions, and wars.
I would note that the pickup of the two Senate seats in Georgia had much to do with Trump’s crude and illegal tactics to get Georgia’s Republican Governor and Secretary of State to help him “find” 12,000 more votes. His denigration of the voting system and persistent belly-aching about how the national election was stolen from him kept Republican voters from turning out in the needed numbers.
It is not to take anything away from Senators-Elect Ossoff and Warnock’s extraordinary efforts, the multiple progressive groups with boots on the ground, or the donors of the $500 million that paid However, the 12,000 votes Biden beat Trump by, and the narrowness of the Senate victories hardly suggest that Georgia has become a reliably Democratic state.
Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock all ran as moderate Democrats. When it comes time to propose and vote on a federal climate defense plan, their moderateness will be in full view.
Time is of the essence
Under the best of circumstances doing all that’s necessary to put the nation inextricably on a path to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than the 2022 midterm elections promises to be a heavy lift—possibly too heavy. Note that I’m giving Biden and Congress an extra year compared to the President-Elect’s climate goal of 2021.
History is not on the side of a sitting president’s party in midterm elections. Since World War II, an incumbent president’s party has lost an average of 26 House seats and four Senate seats two years into their terms.
The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia believes the Democrats have the best chance of adding to their Senate and House numbers in the 2022 midterms. Thirty-three Senate and 435 House seats will be up for grabs in those elections.
Two years can be a lifetime in politics. Moreover, the 2022 midterms will be the first federal elections impacted by decennial reapportionment and redistricting based on the 2020 cen-sus. In many states, congressional districts are drawn by their legislatures. According to Ballot-pedia, 38 states—15 Democratic and 23 Republican—are ruled by a government trifecta.
A trifecta is when one political party holds the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the legislature. (Figure 3) The percent of Americans living in a Republican trifecta state is 42 percent, 37 percent are in a Democratic state, and 22 percent in a divided government state.
The 2020 census will bring about changes in the number of congressional districts in each state. New York appears fated to lose two House seats. Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Mich-igan, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, and California all stand to lose one spot.
The total number of districts will remain the same. The loss of one state, therefore, is the gain for another. Texas looks to be the biggest winner gaining three seats. Florida looks to gain two seats, with North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and Montana each gaining an additional House member.
Population moves are being impacted by various factors, including relocations for new jobs, the pandemic, cost of living, lifestyle, and climate change, e.g., forest fires. The pandemic has shown remote working is a viable alternative to an office for many in the workforce.
New York City lost over 300,000 residents in 2020. Most aren’t expected to return. Many are moving to states like Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas. It’s too early to tell whether northern Democrats are moving in the numbers required to change future election outcomes. However, I suspect it will just be a matter of time before out-migration from northern cities impacts the politics of receiving states.
In today’s hyper-partisan environment, partisan redistricting is likely to become the new normal. Recent gerrymandering decisions by the US Supreme Court have opened the way for that to happen.
The US Supreme Court has now ruled that partisan gerrymandering is a political question beyond the reach of federal courts. The 5 to 4 decision was along conservative-liberal lines. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the conservative majority:
Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.
With the addition of Justice Coney Barrett, the high court now leans 6 to 3 in favor of the conservatives.
Justin Levitt, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, believes redistricting is now in Mad Max territory where the rule is there are no rules. (Figure 4) Because there are more Republican than Democratic legislatures, it will likely appear that red states are more unfair than blue. The truth is otherwise.
Redistricting outcomes bear watching. The balance of power in the states is another aspect of Biden’s having no coattails. A winning presidential candidate should reasonably be expected to bring along down-ballot members of his own party at every level. The two changes that did occur due to the November elections gave the Republicans trifecta status in Montana and New Hampshire. Both states previously had divided governments.
There are a lot of questions still to be answered. Will Democratic progressives and moderates in Congress be able to strike a balance when it comes to the enactment of climate legislation? Can Democrats and moderate Republicans work together in the post Trump era?
A few days ago, I would have said no. Now that some Republican lawmakers have seen Trump without his clothes there may be opportunities for collective action.
Time will tell—and so will I.
Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
After an election in which the country opted for a reset, not a revolution, moderate
Democrats hold the power in the party.
Sullivan and Bade
The momentum of the 2018 Congressional midterm elections in which the Democrats gained 42 seats and regained their majority status in the House of Representatives lost steam in 2020. It had been expected that the 2020 elections would build on the 2018 victories and possibly lead to capturing the Senate.
The anticipated blue wave broke badly, never making it onto Congressional shores. It is destined to profoundly impact the abilities of the Biden White House and Democratic Congres-sional leaders to take the bold steps needed to slow and then reduce net greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector to zero over the next 15 years.
Although the House remains in Democratic hands, fewer hands are doing the holding. The election losses have led to recriminations and heated discussions between moderate and progressive House Democrats. The who’s right/who’s wrong arguments have spilled out into the activist communities—with each faction accusing the other.
Beyond the shock, awe, and recriminations of losing 13 House seats, the narrowed Democratic House majority poses practical strategic difficulties for Speaker Pelosi and the Biden administration. The Democrats will go into the 117th Congress with 222 seats House seats—just four more than the 218 needed to pass most legislation.
Other arms reach out to me
And other eyes will smile tenderly
Still, in peaceful dreams, I see
The road leads back to you
Hoagy Carmichael / Stuart Gorell
We, the people, fired the nation’s chief executive long about a month ago. The order is scheduled to be confirmed by a vote of the Electoral College on December 14, 2020. It will then come due on January 20, 2021, when Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
The College’s vote will finalize the election of Joe Biden. It will not, however, bring an end to the 2020 election cycle. There is a critical step still to be taken for that to happen.
On January 5, 2021, Georgia voters will again be casting ballots to fill both of its US Senate seats. The outcome of the Peach State’s balloting is second in importance only to November’s presidential contest. In fact, some political veterans have dubbed Georgia’s Senate races the most consequential runoff in American history in terms of shifting the balance of power in Washington.
I don’t often have an opportunity to agree with Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker has seen—from inside political circles— many elections come and go. I am willing, therefore, to defer to his superior experience in this matter.
Defund the police? Defund my butt. I’m a proud West Virginia Democrat.
We do not have some crazy socialist agenda.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)
President-Elect Biden ran as a unifier in a time of deep division. His job as president has been made all the more difficult by voters having denied the Democrats control of Congress.
The last president who entered his first-term without his party in control of Congress was George H. W. Bush in 1989. The last Democrat who suffered the same fate was Grover Cleveland in 1885. Same party control of Congress is no guarantee of smooth sailing for a president—divisions within parties are common and frequently acted upon.
Midterm elections are historically harmful to a sitting president. According to Politifact, a sitting president’s party has on average lost 32 House seats and more than two Senate seats in midterm elections since 1862. The only presidents to beat the odds were Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, Bill Clinton in 1998, and George W. Bush in 2002.
The 2020 elections are almost history. What’s left are the Georgia Senate runoff elections in January, and President Trump running out of brows to beat, and judges willing to indulge his unsubstantiated claims.
Biden’s election means a presidential assault on the nation’s environmental protection framework is coming to an end. The President-Elect has vowed to build it back better than before. To do that, he will need to convince a conflicted government to cooperate with him. It may prove a more daunting task than winning the presidency.
Climate activists thought that 2020 would be the year when voters finally provided clear and unambiguous support for an encompassing climate defense plan and the lawmakers who would put it into action. It was a year in which politics and science both took center stage.
The spread of COVID-19 has provided daily news reminders, in the form of infection rates and body counts, of the consequences of ignoring sound scientific advice. Contagion-borne illnes-ses we know are made worse by pollution—especially for the elderly and those with compro-mised immune systems.
The transition from candidate to president provides critical clues as to how he is likely to rule. Above everything else, politics is a team sport. Therefore, the first tells of a president-elect’s hand is who he reaches out to as personal staff and those being considered for cabinet positions. The experience of the various candidates can say a lot about the priorities being placed on multiple issues.
The best presidents may not be the smartest in a bookish sense—neither are they necessarily the ones with a strong sense of self. High marks are to be given to a president who under-stands his strengths and weaknesses and is not threatened by staff who may be smarter than them on different issues. No single person can manage the federal bureaucracy.
This is the first article of an occasional series that puzzles out for readers whether and how the President-Elect intends to make good on the Biden plan for a clean energy revolution and environmental justice within today’s political context. It begins with a story of conflict between a president with the most progressive policy agenda since Frank Roosevelt and a Republican Senate majority looking to keep the Senate and capture the House in the 2022 midterm elections.
With the Nov. 7 news that Joe Biden became President-elect fresh on our minds, we paused to consider our initial reactions to the results and what those results mean for the ongoing effort to protect our environment. Biden’s win is a victory, to be sure, but there are so many other factors that matter on the forward path. What will Biden’s administration face when the dust settles over Georgia’s Senate seats? A Republican majority or a 50-50 split? What will be Biden’s plan for his first 100 days? There are also questions to consider about what Democrats want now, and whether there will be a deepening divide there. We look at these issues and more in this first look at the outcome of the 2020 elections.
It's the morning after the day before, and the only sure thing is the election bodes badly for Mother Earth and the Democrats. Make no mistake—climate change was front and center in the 2020 elections. President Trump and a majority of Congressional Republicans are unlikely to feel any special urge to do much about Earth’s warming or to enact science-based policies.
Even should Biden win the White House, Senate Republicans will have outsized control over what gets passed by Congress. Majority Leader McConnell will leverage his stopping powers whether approving Biden's cabinet and judicial nominees or appropriating the funds needed to put his policies in play. Depending on the final vote tallies, some 2020 elections will be better than others. How you view them will rest on whether you're a half-full or half-empty kinda person. Under any circumstance, the 2020 federal election is a setback to the nation's tran-sition to a low-carbon economy compared to what it could have been had the polls been right.
At my doctor's the other day we somehow, got into a conversation about climate change. He's a self-professed old-school conservative Republican. I'm not, which probably accounts for our usually staying away from talking politics.
It is not to say we don't agree on some things in the political realm. For example, we both fret for the loss of civility and the nation's future should Donald Trump be re-elected.
Like a lot of people these days, we both voted early. I know it hurt him to vote for Biden. How-ever, sometimes you gotta take one for the team.
I like my doctor. So as a gesture of goodwill, I promised to vote for a Republican sometime in the future. The truth is, it''s not much of a sacrifice. I've voted and worked for Republicans in the past. I suspect I will again in the future—assuming the Party of Trump goes back to being the Party of Lincoln.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
… burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Anyone who thinks the climate community will not have Donald J. Trump to kick around anymore after the votes are tallied in November is sure to be disappointed. His works and what he's wrought will linger long after the man has left the building.
Transitions can be hard for out-going members of a defeated administration. The power of the presidency is a heady business. For those close to it, going back to "civilian life" can be a real downer. No more limousines, no more being given the best table at restaurants, no more "yes sir, yes ma'am" what a great idea, just because you're seated close to power.
Under these circumstances, a certain amount of pranking and pilfering is to be expected. The out-going Clinton administration was reported to have left its mark as the George W. Bush administration moved in. For example, the letter "W" on computer keyboards was said to have been vandalized. In some cases, the letter went missing, while in other instances, it was glued down.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.