When Is a Climate Bill Not a Climate Bill?

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 5:27 PM EDT

As I noted earlier, I was at the White House for President Barack Obama's remarks on the pending energy bill. The fact that he held this event was widely seen as a sign that the White House is worried about tomorrow's vote in the House on this cap and trade measure. Actually, this wasn't really an event. Obama just came out to a podium set up in the Rose Garden and spoke into a television camera. There were a couple dozen reporters standing and watching. But we were not the audience. Viewers at home probably thought the president was speaking before an important group of legislators or citizens who had been assembled at the White House. But no, he was talking to those viewers themselves, trying to gin up support for the bill.

What was noticeable was the number of times he used the phrase "climate change": none. Or the number of times he referred to the bill as cap and trade legislation: none. He depicted the legislation as a jobs bill--using "jobs" nine times in the short statement. He was explicit:

Now, make no mistake -- this is a jobs bill.  We're already seeing why this is true in the clean energy investments we're making through the Recovery Act.  In California, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 jobs.  In Michigan, investments in wind turbines and wind technology is expected to create over, 2,600 jobs.  In Florida, three new solar projects are expected to employ 1,400 people.

The list goes on and on, but the point is this:  This legislation will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.  That will lead to the creation of new businesses and entire new industries.  And that will lead to American jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

Everyone knows, I suppose, this is also a climate change bill, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. But in the face of opposition from GOPers and others who claim this "cap and tax" measure will wreck the economy, Obama stayed away from an overly enviro-ish argument for the legislation. It's not about saving the planet; it's about getting you or someone you know a job.

Perhaps this is a politically savvy tactic. It is worrisome a bit, since scientists say that greater reductions than prompted by this bill will be needed to redress climate change. Obama is hardly teeing up the ball for that sort of debate.

When the president was done, he quickly trotted off, without taking questions from the correspondents. ABC News' Jake Tapper did shout at him: Are you satisfied with a bill that auctions off only 15 percent of the carbon credits, not 100 percent? (On the campaign trail, Obama supported the 100 percent mark.) The president didn't acknowledge the question. He kept on walking back to the Oval Office.

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Meanwhile, it was not all serious policy and political stuff at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today. Tonight is the annual congressional picnic, which has been turned into a luau on the South Lawn. One feature at this party will be a dunk tank--with Rahm Emanuel as the to-be-dunked prize. Good marketing. Plenty of House members probably want to try to hit that target. But at the afternoon press briefing, Robert Gibbs managed to talk his way into being dunked by the press corps. presuming any of the reporters could throw a good pitch.

So at 5:30, before the official festivities were to begin, reporters were escorted to the backyard of the White House for the potential dunking. As we walked through the rear of the Rose Garden, I spotted Obama at the other end of the garden, sticking his head out a door to the West Wing. "Come on," I shouted at him. "Join us. Take a throw." He smiled, shook his head. "Just one pitch!" I said. "Show us your arm." He waved and said, "They won't let me take a shot at him."

We proceeded to the South Lawn, and there was Gibbs perched in the tank. Four reporters got the opportunity to dunk him. Bill Plante of CBS scored. So did an AP reporter. Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times threw hard but missed, as did a Fox News correspondent. Gibbs laughed his way through the ordeal, as TV camera people and photographers recorded the event. It was a great PR move for him: what a good sport.

Then our minders quickly rushed us away, as preparations for the luau continued--and White House aides, no doubt, went back to worrying about the pending vote on the cap and trade bill.

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