Fires, Heat Block Biden From Taking Victory Lap for Climate Law

President Joe Biden’s effort to capitalize on the anniversary of his signature legislative achievement is landing at an inopportune time.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden’s effort to capitalize on the anniversary of his signature legislative achievement is landing at an inopportune time.

Biden has been building up to the one-year mark of his Inflation Reduction Act, a massive package that included billions of dollars for climate and sweeping tax and health-care measures, with events around the country, culminating in a White House celebration Wednesday.

Yet his desire for a victory lap has been overshadowed by a wave of extreme weather that has climate advocates demanding more action, and a labor dispute involving a powerful union ally over the transition to electric vehicles.

It’s not the first time circumstances beyond Biden’s control have undone his efforts to revel in a victory. 

The president held a ceremony at the White House last September to herald the law, but hours before he spoke a report dropped showing worse-than-expected inflation. That news cast a pall over a celebration for a measure that rescued his agenda before the midterm elections and promised to lower prices for Americans.

Biden has since been buoyed by positive data showing cooling inflation, strong gross domestic product growth and job gains. He has credited the Inflation Reduction Act with spurring a manufacturing boom, particularly in clean-energy projects, but those gains have failed to reverse poor voter perceptions of his handling of the economy.

The president has crisscrossed the nation visiting groundbreakings and factories to sell his agenda, dubbed Bidenomics, with the IRA at the centerpiece. But the effort faces a steep climb. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed less than three in 10 Americans say they know a good or great deal about the IRA.

Read more: A Year Into Biden’s Climate Agenda, the Price Tag Remains Mysterious

The anniversary has also been overshadowed by a controversy over the White House response to the devastating wildfires in Maui. Asked about the rising death toll over the weekend while vacationing in Delaware, Biden said “no comment,” generating criticism.

The White House announced details of Biden’s planned visit to the island on Wednesday, hours before the IRA celebration.

The fourth criminal indictment against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, and the appointment of a special counsel for Biden’s son Hunter have also distracted from the president’s economic pitch.

Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, said Biden’s struggles to get credit for his policies are not unique.

“This is no different than the challenges of Obama and the challenges of Reagan as they were coming out of economic downturn,” he said. 

Biden has acknowledged his messaging has struggled to resonate and that he wished the IRA had a different name.

“I wish I hadn’t called it that, because it has less to do with reducing inflation than it does to do with dealing with providing for alternatives that generate economic growth,” he said last week.

A CNN survey released this month showed just 37% of Americans believe Biden has done a good job on economic matters. Republicans have seized on numbers showing Americans are still worried about the economy and inflation.

Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist with Dewey Square Group, said polls often lagged. “I think you’re going to start seeing that people are going to start feeling the positive economic indicators,” she predicted.

Read more: What Is Bidenomics? It Depends on Your Point of View: QuickTake 

Biden’s law has also complicated ties with a key political ally.

The transition to electric vehicles is an issue in difficult negotiations between the United Auto Workers and Detroit’s Big Three automakers. Auto workers are concerned electric vehicle subsidies could threaten union jobs in the industry.

The UAW endorsed Biden in 2020 but has yet to back a candidate for 2024. Trump has urged the union to endorse him, saying the IRA cost workers jobs and raised car prices.

Progressive activists are also pushing Biden to declare a climate emergency following a series of extreme weather events. That step would unlock sweeping powers, including the ability for Biden to block crude oil exports.

Biden has cited extreme weather, including brutal heat waves, to highlight measures in the climate law, but has declined to declare an emergency. He has pointed to the IRA’s measures and other steps to argue he has “practically” already done so.

Cardona said Biden should highlight the importance of his reelection to supporters if they hope to advance his agenda.

“They’re certainly not going to get any additional tools to fight climate change if Donald Trump is being elected again,” she said.

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