Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice.
When JOHN PODESTA delivered a speech Wednesday laying out the administration’s priorities for reforming the federal government’s permitting process, some Republicans in Congress saw it as a sign of the White House moving their way in the negotiations tying up the debt ceiling being lifted.
Podesta is President JOE BIDEN’s senior adviser tasked with implementing his climate agenda. So his comments carry serious weight. But the White House noted that the remarks were scheduled long before the debt limit discussions had reached this phase. And Podesta did not deviate from the administration’s position that raising the debt limit is not negotiable.
“The threat of default should never be used in policy fights,” he said during his speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “If you want to talk about permitting, we should talk about permitting.”
Still, two sources familiar with the ongoing spending negotiations over the debt limit increase confirmed that permitting reform is on the table — and viewed within the White House and on Capitol Hill as, potentially, a key piece of an eventual agreement that could give House Speaker KEVIN MCCARTHY enough political cover to agree to a revised debt ceiling increase.
McCarthy included the House GOP’s permitting legislation, known as “The BUILDER Act,” in their sweeping package of spending cuts that included a debt ceiling hike and passed narrowly last month. Biden continues to insist on a clean debt ceiling increase. But he did begin direct talks about a compromise on a separate spending bill starting with Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting.
While those talks are in the early stages, Podesta and other top advisers increasingly view permitting reform as a priority both sides share and, perhaps, the low-hanging fruit in an eventual agreement.
“We’ve been clear we support permitting reform,” White House assistant press secretary MICHAEL KIKUKAWA said. “We have seen bipartisan support for permitting reform and certainly hope there is bipartisan progress. But we’re not going to detail what negotiators are discussing.”
Speeding up the permitting process for energy projects has been likened to the successful bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 — a priority both parties share even if their rationales differ. Republicans want to expedite oil and gas drilling. Democrats, meanwhile, are eager to ensure that the $200 billion of new clean energy investments sparked by the tax incentives in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act actually come online fast enough to help the U.S. meet its emissions reduction goals.
“We need to build transmission, we need to build offshore wind, we need to build utility scale solar, hydrogen pipelines, CO2 pipelines, direct air capture, we need to build a lot of stuff,” said Rep. SCOTT PETERS (D-Calif.). “And we have laws from the 1970s that are designed to slow bad stuff down.”
Despite these overlapping interests, there is disagreement on big details. The GOP, for example, is reluctant to support measures that give the federal government more of a role in approving interstate transmission lines that deliver clean power to urban areas, the top priority for Democrats.
But the major bills that are on the table have some level of overlap, including a revised proposal introduced last week from Sen. JOE MANCHIN, chair of the Energy Committee, a bill expected soon from Environment and Public Works Committee Chair TOM CARPER, and legislation from the ranking members of those panels, Sens. JOHN BARRASSO and SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO — along with the House GOP proposal.
Merging those measures into a bipartisan bill isn’t without complications, especially with Manchin, who faces a tough reelection fight next year and has taken the White House to task for its approach to environmental regulations. In exchange for supporting the reconciliation deal that enabled Democrats to pass $369 billion in climate spending last summer, Manchin secured a promise from Democratic leaders to attach his permitting proposal to a piece of must-pass legislation. But the effort failed amid GOP frustrations with Manchin for his decisive vote on the IRA and the opposition of some Democrats who didn’t want to spur more fossil fuel projects.
The White House, which supported Manchin’s permitting proposal last year, has put forth a permitting reform blueprint that focused almost exclusively on electric transmission projects to bring more renewable energy projects to the grid. The administration has signaled a desire to work with Republicans on the issue, while making clear they’re far more amenable to Senate proposals than the more fossil-fuel focused House bill.
Within the broader context of the debt limit talks and the vast ideological divides on spending related to the social safety net, public services and taxes, permitting appears to be perhaps the most fertile ground for a bipartisan compromise to take root.
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This one is from Allie. Which president made changes to the White House tennis court so it could accommodate basketball games?
(Answer at bottom.)
NO WORK GETS DONE ON FRIDAYS ANYWAY: Biden’s planned Friday meeting with top congressional leaders to discuss the debt ceiling has been called off, according to a White House spokesperson. As our ADAM CANCRYN, BURGESS EVERETT and SARAH FERRIS reported, the group has instead agreed to meet next week. You can view this as bad (the, uh, deadline is kinda close guys) or good (more time to talk at the staff level!).
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: This NYT opinion piece by CHARLES M. BLOW about how “The Panic Over Biden’s Age Is Manufactured.” Blow writes that age is a fair consideration when looking at presidential candidates, but “breathless headlines have created a sense that worry about the president’s age is common knowledge and common sense, when in fact it is, at least in part, fueled by political manipulation and media complicity.” White House deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES and deputy communications director HERBIE ZISKEND both tweeted out the piece Thursday morning.
ALSO: IAN SAMS, special assistant to the president and spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, would really like you to take note of the coverage of House Oversight Committee Chairman JAMES COMER’s press conference Wednesday, when he offered little evidence to back up allegations of direct wrongdoing by the president.
In an email to reporters Thursday, Sams blasted out several links and quotes from coverage describing the GOP investigations as a “swing and a miss” (Time) that showed “no evidence of wrongdoing” (NYT). “Even Fox couldn’t hold back,” Sams wrote, linking to STEVE DOOCY’s grilling of Comer on Thursday morning over flimsy allegations that Biden profited from his son HUNTER BIDEN’s overseas business engagements.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: Anything about what’s happening at the southwestern border as Title 42, a Trump-era policy used to expel migrants, expires tonight. “Border agents, local officials and the White House are contending with thousands of new migrants along the U.S. border with Mexico in the hours before an emergency health rule, which has been used to turn back hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2020, is set to lift at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday,” NYT’s MIRIAM JORDAN, MICHAEL D. SHEAR, EILEEN SULLIVAN and J. DAVID GOODMAN report.
CAN’T STAY AWAY: The president on Monday is “expected to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s 267th commencement, where his granddaughter Maisy will receive a degree,” The Philadelphia Inquirers’ SUSAN SNYDER and JULIA TERRUSO report.
OVERHEARD: The president said during a Democratic Party fundraiser Wednesday that he visited Northern Ireland “to make sure the Brits didn’t screw around,” striking a different tone from the speech he delivered in Belfast about keeping the peace. POLITICO Europe’s SHAWN POGATCHNIK has more details.
EVERYTHING’S UNDER CONTROL: Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS spoke about the expiration of Title 42 during Thursday’s White House press briefing. He said the administration “prepared for this moment for almost two years, and our plan will deliver results. It will take time for those results to be fully realized, and it is essential that we all take this into account.” Mayorkas also called on federal lawmakers to act, saying the current “situation is the outcome of Congress leaving a broken, outdated immigration system in place for over two decades.” Our KIERRA FRAZIER has more on his comments here.
A STARK WARNING: Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. MARK MILLEY told lawmakers Thursday that defaulting on debt will give China the upper hand, our CONNOR O’BRIEN reports. “China right now describes us in their open speeches, etc., as a declining power,” Milley said. “Defaulting on the debt would only reinforce that thought and embolden China and increase risk to the United States.”
AND ANOTHER ONE GONE: National Security Agency director and Army Gen. PAUL NAKASONE is considering leaving his post later this year, in August or September, after nearly five years of leading the agency, WSJ’s DUSTIN VOLZ reports.
CIA OVERHAULING SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE PROTOCOLS: The Central Intelligence Agency is hiring TALEETA JACKSON, an expert on sexual assault prevention, as it attempts to address allegations of mishandling sexual assault and misconduct in its workforce, our DANIEL LIPPMAN reports. Hiring Jackson, a psychologist who most recently oversaw the U.S. Navy’s sexual assault prevention program for more than 70 of its installations, is one of several steps the agency is taking in response to a House Intelligence Committee investigation prompted after several female employees who said their cases of sexual assault were mishandled.
ONE STEP CLOSER: Lawmakers on Thursday advanced the nomination of JARED BERNSTEIN, Biden’s pick to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers, making him one step closer to full consideration of the Senate, our VICTORIA GUIDA reports. If confirmed, Bernstein would play a key part in moving the economy away from recession. He’s currently a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.
WELCOME BACK: Although Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.) made her return to the Senate this week, lawmakers on Thursday still weren’t able to move forward MICHAEL DELANEY’s nomination to serve as a first circuit court judge, our KATHERINE TULLY-MCMANUS reports. Delaney has come under scrutiny over his work representing a school in a sexual assault case.
ALL OR NOTHING: The EPA unveiled an ambitious rule Thursday targeting pollution, requiring coal and natural gas power plants “to slash their greenhouse gas pollution 90 percent between 2035 and 2040 — or shut down,” our ALEX GUILLÉN reports.
EPA administrator MICHAEL REGAN said in remarks Thursday that the rule is “not about party affiliation. It’s not about politics. … It's about uniting as a society, as a nation, as a people, for the greater good of humanity. It's about recognizing and acknowledging that we may not exactly agree on the how, but we must agree on the what.” ZACK COLMAN and Alex have more.
— Our BRIAN DABBS, CARLOS ANCHONDO and CHRISTA MARSHALL also report that the new EPA rule brings back the old idea of carbon capture. But, they write, "questions remain about whether the technology can be deployed quickly and affordably enough at the nation’s thousands of coal- and gas-burning plants.”
Can Trump cure all of Biden’s ills? Some Dems aren’t so sure. (POLITICO's Eugene Daniels and Jonathan Lemire)
In Bid to Ease Tensions, Top Biden Aide and Chinese Diplomat Meet (Bloomberg’s Jenny Leonard and Peter Martin)
Exclusive: Biden administration hunts for high-value Russians for potential prisoner swap (CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Matthew Chance)
President BARACK OBAMA made changes to the White House tennis court, adding lines and removable baskets, so it could serve as a basketball court, according to the archived Obama White House website. Peep a picture of him playing here.
A CALL OUT — Do you think you have a harder trivia question? Send us your best one about the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.