President Joe Biden’s spent his last hours on his overseas trip holding a news conference to tout U.S. climate policies and what he called “significant progress” made at the COP26 summit — but he was also forced to respond to Democratic infighting over his climate change policies and social agenda at home.
“Mister President, you’re touting on this visit the $1.7 trillion plan that includes climate but your party is still not united behind it,” a reporter said, raising progressives battling with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., over the social spending package Democrats seek to pass through a “reconciliation process” that would need every Democratic Senate vote but could avoid a Republican filibuster. “Today, he said he never signed off on the framework. So, do you have a specific commitment from Senator Manchin to support your Build Back Better bill — yes or no — and how do you respond to those criticisms?”
“Number one, I’m not going to talk about the specifics of my conversations,” Biden replied. “He will vote for — in this proposal what he has anticipated and that is looking at the fine print and the detail of what comes out of the house in terms of the actual legislative initiative. I believe that Joe will be there.”
Although there’s no definite sign the already Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass the House soon, progressives say they trust Biden to deliver 51 Senate votes he promised on the larger social spending and climate bill, and Biden predicted Manchin would support that, despite expressing new concerns that it would cost a lot more than claimed.
“With regard to the issue of whether or not he thinks that he’s worried about this being inflationary or negative impact on the economy, I think that I made it clear to Joe and will continue to,” Biden said. “Seventeen Nobel laureates on economics said it’s going to lower inflation and raise wages and increase competition and create two million jobs in a year, et cetera.”
While Manchin told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott earlier in the day on Capitol Hill that he did not give the president a sign off on the framework before it was announced, Biden seemed to throw that into question with his response, saying he understood that Manchin wanted to check the fine print for any changes from the agenda “he acknowledged he would agree to.”
“And so I think that Joe is looking for the precise detail to make sure nothing got slipped in — in terms of how the legislation got written that is different than he acknowledged he would agree to, but I think we’ll get this done,” Biden said from Scotland.
He took the same tone when asked about Election day in Virginia — where the race for governor is being considered a litmus test for former President Donald Trump’s influence while Democrats’ agenda is stalled.
Asked if a Democratic loss could signal real losses for the party in the midterms, Biden said, “We’re going to win.”
“The race is very close. It’s about who shows up, who turns out, and grant it, I did win by a large margin, but the point of the matter is that, I think, this is going to be what we all knew from the beginning. This is going to be a tight race,” he acknowledged. “I think we’re going to win New Jersey as well,” he said of the gubernatorial race there as well.
The president rejected the concept that the race being so is a reflection of his own job performance.
“The off-year is always unpredictable, especially when we don’t have a general election going on at the same time,” he added. “But having said that, I don’t believe, and I’ve not seen any evidence that whether or not I am doing well or poorly, whether or not I’ve got my agenda passed or not is going to have any real impact on winning or losing. Even if we had passed my agenda, I wouldn’t claim we won because Biden’s agenda passed,” Biden said.
If voters turn out in big numbers, the president predicted, Democrats will win the governorships in both Virginia and New Jersey.
“It’s awful hard for me to be prognosticating, which I don’t like doing as president anyway from overseas, but I think — I hope that every eligible voter in Virginia and New Jersey shows up and votes and the more of them that do, the better off I think our chances are. I think we’re going to — I think we’re going to win,” he said.
Ending his news conference, Biden was asked about the anger and skepticism of protestors outside the summit, who worry that the U.S. is not doing enough to address the climate crisis, even with his historic pledges.
“Well, first of all, I think anyone who is focused on the environment should be worried. We’ve got a lot more to do beyond what we’ve done,” Biden began. “What they’re looking at is what in fact has happened in terms of everything from dealing with deforestation to what we’re going to do on build back better and how we’ve been able to focus now,” he said, though the president did not address the fact that he has struggled to get members of his own party on board with his initial climate proposals.
“There’s a reason for people to be worried. I’m worried. I’m worried if we don’t continue to move forward and make the kind of progress we’re now making that it’s going to — I mean, we throw into jeopardy the prospect that we’re going to be able to keep the temperature rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Biden said, laying out the stakes of failing to deliver on the ambitious pledges.
Despite his own worries, the president said he is “optimistic” that the world is hitting a tipping point in the view of climate change, citing a very different outlook than even existed at the previous COP25 climate summit as people across the country see the impacts of climate change play out in their own backyards, he said.
“Things are changing. We just — have to have the right stewardship and enough sense as world leaders to get it right,” Biden added.
In brief remarks ahead of taking questions, Biden touted the U.S. as leading the way with initiatives such as reducing methane emissions and deforestation.
He said investing in a clean energy future will take a whole society effort and is both an economic and “moral imperative.”
Earlier in the day, the president emphasized innovation of new technologies, and the adoption of existing ones, to galvanize the fight against climate change. He talked about deforestation and how the U.S. will meet carbon emission goals after the White House announced a new plan for methane reduction which he said more than 100 countries have signed, too.