This post first appeared at Horizons.
I have to wonder if Dana Milbank and Noam Scheiber feel a little foolish this morning. While they were busy engrossing themselves in back room school-girl chatter about people like Valerie Jarrett, a HUGE announcement on the success of climate talks with China and a whole boatload of executive actions to address climate change have been in the works.
Here’s what Scheiber wrote the other day:
Jarrett’s work behind the scenes served the president well so long as people like Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel, and Robert Gibbs . . . remained inside the building. She diversified the views he received without stifling internal debate. But then, one by one, the big personalities left.
Of course, there is a danger in bringing in big personalities rather than loyalists, and Obama has suffered the consequences of his first-term “team of rivals” in the kiss-and-tell memoirs by Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and, particularly, Leon Panetta. Yet he has done himself more harm filling top positions with loyalists.
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, is best known for two things: his national security chops—he had key roles on the White House National Security Council—and the high regard in which he’s held by President Obama. McDonough has been part of Obama’s inner circle for nearly a decade, and the president has called his new chief of staff one of his “closest and most trusted advisers.”
Here’s what a lot of people don’t know about McDonough: He has a background on climate change, and he takes the issue very seriously. “Denis McDonough understands the threat posed by climate change to national security more than any White House chief of staff in the 21st century,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress.
And how about White House Counselor John Podesta?
The deal-sealer for Podesta, who has vowed to stay for only a year, was Obama’s assurance that he would be given broad oversight of the administration’s climate change agenda…And here is where the template for Podesta in action might first become apparent: With chances of major legislation on climate change all but dead given congressional opposition, Podesta will push for aggressive executive action, in addition to backstopping new Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy on controversial new emissions guidelines for power plants.
But perhaps the “loyalist” most responsible for the announcement of a deal with China today is Secretary of State John Kerry. Let’s go back to something Coral Davenport wrote about that almost a year ago.
His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution…
“He’s pushing to get climate to be the thing that drives the U.S. relationship with China,” said Timothy E. Wirth, a former Democratic senator from Colorado who now works on climate change issues with the United Nations Foundation…
“It has not gone unnoticed that this administration is now much more engaged on climate change,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Every international negotiator understands it.” When Mr. Kerry took office, Mr. Schmidt said, “the dynamic changed quite a bit.”
I suppose there is a lot to be said for creating a “team of rivals.” But its also true that it helps to have people on your team who share your vision. When it comes to climate change, we’re starting to see the results of the latter.