President Biden on Wednesday will sign a package of executive orders elevating climate change at every level of the federal government, a move that the administration says will put the United States on the path to reducing its share of emissions that are warming the planet.
Taking the first significant steps toward one of Mr. Biden’s most contentious campaign promises, the orders will direct the secretary of the Interior Department “to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters to the extent possible” while beginning a “rigorous review” of all existing fossil fuel leases and permitting practices, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.
Federal agencies also will be ordered to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies “and identify new opportunities to spur innovation.” Overhauling the tax breaks — worth billions of dollars to the oil, coal and gas industries — to help pay for Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion climate change plan was also a major campaign promise. Both plans are expected to face strong opposition in Congress.
Wednesday’s executive orders also set broad new foreign policy goals, including specifying that climate change, for the first time, will be a core part of all foreign policy and national security decisions.
Oil and gas industry leaders signaled that many of Mr. Biden’s plans would face steep opposition, while environmental groups called the changes long overdue, particularly after four years in which the Trump administration mocked climate science and eliminated virtually every tool the government had to tackle rising emissions.
“This is the single biggest day for climate action in more than a decade,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
At noon today, President Biden will have been in office for a week, and the split-screen between new and old that has defined the first days of his administration continues.
It is an image of a government trying to operate on three tracks at once: enacting a new administration’s agenda, staffing the new administration’s agencies and trying to punish a departed president whose supporters attacked the seat of that government just three weeks ago.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden will deliver remarks about climate change and scientific integrity.
But the Senate has had to spend some time focused on the last administration. On Tuesday senators voted to proceed with its impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump over the objections of Republicans who had argued that it was unconstitutional to try him after he left office. The 55-to-45 vote was a short-term victory for supporters of impeachment, but it was also a strong indication that they were unlikely to find the 17 Republicans needed to convict Mr. Trump. Several Republicans who voted to uphold the constitutional challenge, which would have effectively killed the trial, rushed after the vote to clarify that they remained open-minded about the trial, which next convenes on Feb. 9.
In the same body on the same day, senators confirmed Antony J. Blinken as secretary of state by a vote of 78 to 22 and a committee heard testimony from Gov. Gina M. Raimondo of Rhode Island, Mr. Biden’s nominee for commerce secretary. Vice President Kamala Harris also swore in Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary, and the president’s cabinet is taking shape. Ms. Harris will swear in Mr. Blinken at a ceremony on Wednesday morning.
And at the White House, Mr. Biden signed executive orders to end federal contracts with private prisons and to combat housing discrimination; spoke with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia; and announced that his administration had reached a deal with Pfizer and Moderna to buy an additional 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses. That means the United States should have enough doses to vaccinate most Americans by the end of the summer, though obtaining enough and getting them into people’s arms are two very different tasks.
John Kerry, the new American envoy for climate change, has spent the last few days repeatedly telling world leaders that the United States is ready to help the world “raise ambition” to address global warming. Doing so, however, could mean big changes for America’s role in the world.
Foreign policy experts say that the Biden administration’s efforts must extend far beyond rejoining the Paris agreement, the global pact by nearly 200 governments aimed at slowing climate change. Taking on climate change will require a reassessment of issues as broad as the United States’ priorities in the Arctic and helping fragile countries deal with the fallout of climate risks.
“It changes defense posture, it changes foreign policy posture,” said John D. Podesta, a former Obama administration official. “It begins to drive a lot of decision making in foreign policy, diplomacy and development policy.”
The first acknowledgment of that shift is expected on Wednesday, with the White House directing intelligence agencies to produce a National Intelligence Estimate on climate security, and telling the secretary of defense to do a climate risk analysis of the Pentagon’s facilities and installations.
“Addressing climate change can, and will be, a central pillar of the Biden administration’s foreign policy,” said Meghan O’Sullivan, who served as a deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush and now leads the Geopolitics of Energy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School. “It means infusing the issue of climate and environment into our trade policies, our foreign aid programs, our bilateral discussions and even our military readiness.”
As President Biden prepares on Wednesday to open an ambitious effort to confront climate change, powerful and surprising forces are arrayed at his back.
Automakers are coming to accept that much higher fuel economy standards are their future; large oil and gas companies have said some curbs on greenhouse pollution lifted by former President Donald J. Trump should be reimposed; shareholders are demanding corporations acknowledge and prepare for a warmer, more volatile future, and a youth movement is driving the Democratic Party to go big to confront the issue.
But what may well stand in the president’s way is political intransigence from senators in both parties. An evenly divided Senate has given enormous power to any single senator, and one in particular, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who will lead the Senate Energy Committee and who came to the Senate as a defender of his state’s coal industry.
Mr. Biden has already staffed his government with more people concerned with climate change than any other president before him. On his first day in office, he rejoined the Paris agreement on climate change.
But during the campaign, he tried to walk a delicate line on fracking for natural gas, saying he would stop it on public lands but not on private property, where most of it takes place.
A suite of executive actions planned for Wednesday does include a halt to new oil and gas leases on federal lands and in federal waters, a move that is certain to rile industry. But that would not stop fossil fuel drilling. As of 2019, more than 26 million acres of United States land were already leased to oil and gas companies, and last year the Trump administration, in a rush to exploit natural resources hidden beneath publicly owned lands and waters, leased tens of thousands more.
If the administration honors those contracts, millions of publicly owned acres could be opened to fossil fuel extraction in the coming decade.
The real action will come when Mr. Biden moves forward with plans to reinstate and strengthen Obama-era regulations, repealed by the Trump administration, on the three largest sources of planet-warming greenhouse emissions: vehicles, power plants and methane leaks from oil and gas drilling wells.
It may take up to two years to put the new rules in place, and even then, without new legislation from Congress, a future administration could once again simply undo them.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Biden’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, will face senators on Wednesday for her confirmation hearing, during which she is expected to call for re-engaging with the global body as a strategy to counter the rise of China, according to an excerpt from her prepared remarks.
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, a veteran foreign service officer, plans to say that China made significant diplomatic gains on the global stage during the Trump administration, which retreated from international alliances under an “America First” policy, and that she will reverse that trend and work to promote American values at the multilateral body if confirmed.
“We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution — American values,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield is expected to say. “Their success depends on our continued withdrawal. That will not happen on my watch.”
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination to the post was praised by veteran diplomats, who said her decades of experience as a foreign service officer would help rebuild America’s standing at the United Nations.
She is expected to talk about how her 35 years of diplomatic service, which ended in 2017 after former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson pushed her out of the department, will help guide her approach to the role.
“Throughout my career, from Jamaica to Nigeria, Pakistan to Switzerland, I’ve learned that effective diplomacy means more than shaking hands and staging photo ops,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield is expected to say. “It means developing real, robust relationships. It means finding common ground and managing points of differentiation. It means doing genuine, old-fashioned, people-to-people diplomacy.”
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield entered the foreign service in 1982 and held a range of senior positions in the State Department. She served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012 before moving on to become the director general of the foreign service for about a year. From 2013 to 2017, she served as the top U.S. diplomat for African affairs.
Maria Elena Hernandez recently retrieved a flowery box tucked in her closet and dusted it off. For more than a decade, she has used it to store tax returns, lease agreements and other documents that she has collected to prove her family’s long years of residence in the United States.
“We have been waiting for the day when we can apply for legal status,” said Ms. Hernandez, 55, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who arrived in this country with three small children in 2000. “In this box is, hopefully, all the evidence we’ll need.”
She had just learned of President Biden’s plan to offer a pathway to U.S. citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented people, announced as part of a sweeping proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
The bill would allow undocumented immigrants who were in the United States before Jan. 1, 2021, to apply for temporary legal status after passing background checks and paying taxes. As newly minted “lawful prospective immigrants,” they would be authorized to work, join the military and travel without fear of deportation. After five years, they could apply for green cards.
The president’s proposal would be perhaps the most ambitious immigration redesign passed since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized three million people.
Converting more than three times that many people into full citizens could open the door to one of the most significant demographic shifts in modern U.S. history, lifting millions out of the shadows and potentially into higher-paying jobs, providing them with welfare benefits, government IDs and Social Security eligibility and eventually creating millions of new voters.
“This is the boldest immigration agenda any administration has put forward in generations,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. “But given that the Democrats have razor-thin majorities in Congress, the administration needs to have its expectations tempered.” Legalizing just one group at first — say, farmworkers — might be “more realistic,” he said.
In a sign of the hurdles ahead, another one of Mr. Biden’s early immigration initiatives, a 100-day freeze on deportations, was temporarily blocked by a federal judge on Tuesday after a lawsuit by the Texas attorney general, an advocate of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.
Immigration reform has stalled in Congress time and again, primarily over what is widely known as amnesty. Despite beefed-up border enforcement and employer sanctions, Mr. Reagan’s immigration overhaul failed to curb the growth of the undocumented population.
While Congress has wrestled with how to change the immigration system, immigrants have continued to live, work and raise families in the United States.
The family of Denise Palagan, 27, came to the United States from the Philippines in 2002 after her father, a financial analyst, obtained an H-1B visa.
“The Biden plan would fulfill our hope of keeping the family together,” said Ms. Palagan, who has two younger sisters, one of them born in the United States.
After the inauguration, Ms. Hernandez was at her dining room table thinking about the imminent birth of her second grandchild, who will be an American citizen. She and her husband planned to drive to Utah to meet the baby, and she worried about making a trip across state lines without legal status, lest law enforcement stop them.
When she learned that the president had unveiled a blueprint for legalization, she said, she was stunned at first. Then she went to retrieve the box of documents.
Jennifer M. Granholm, who faces a confirmation hearing Wednesday as President Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Energy, is widely expected to play a central role in the administration’s efforts to confront climate change.
But that raises a question: How much can an energy secretary realistically do to help reduce America’s planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions?
Only about one-fifth of the Energy Department’s $35 billion annual budget is devoted to energy programs. The rest goes toward maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, cleaning up environmental messes from the Cold War and conducting scientific research in areas like high-energy physics.
But the one-fifth slice of the department controls some powerful levers that could help advance clean-energy technologies, including a network of 17 national laboratories that conduct cutting-edge research, tens of billions of dollars in unused federal loan guarantees, and regulatory authority to encourage energy-efficient appliances and new transmission lines.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a first-term Georgia Republican, repeatedly endorsed executing top Democratic politicians on social media before she was elected to Congress, including telling a follower who asked if they could hang former President Barack Obama that the “stage is being set.”
A review of Ms. Greene’s social media accounts, first reported by CNN, found that she repeatedly liked posts on Facebook that discussed the prospect of violence against Democratic lawmakers and employees of the federal government. Ms. Greene liked a Facebook comment in January 2019 that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and liked another about executing FBI agents.
After a Facebook follower asked Ms. Greene “Now do we get to hang them,” referring to Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee, Ms. Greene responded: “Stage is being set. Players are being put in place. We must be patient. This must be done perfectly or liberal judges would let them off.”
In a lengthy statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday before CNN published its report, Ms. Greene did not disavow the posts, but accused CNN of “coming after” her for political reasons and noted that several people had managed her social media accounts.
“Over the years, I’ve had teams of people manage my pages,” Ms. Greene wrote. “Many posts have been liked. Many posts have been shared. Some did not represent my views.”
Ms. Greene has previously been scrutinized for promoting conspiracy theories, including QAnon, the pro-Trump fringe group that falsely claims the existence of a satanic pedophile cult run by top Democrats, and for wrongly suggesting that the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., was staged.
She has repeatedly suggested that Ms. Pelosi should be tried for treason for her refusal to support former President Donald J. Trump’s immigration policies, emphasizing that treason is a crime punishable by death.
In the days before pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, Ms. Greene referred to the day as Republicans’ “1776 moment.” After the riot, she pledged that Mr. Trump would “remain in office” and that attempts to remove him from the White House constituted “an attack on every American who voted for him,” even though he lost the election.
Ms. Greene’s inflammatory rhetoric has drawn rebukes from some members of her own party. But since she joined Congress, House Republican leaders have declined to condemn her. Before she was elected, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, disavowed her comments as “offensive and bigoted,” and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, went so far as to back Ms. Greene’s primary opponent.
After Ms. Greene arrived on Capitol Hill in November, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, claimed that Ms. Greene had distanced herself from QAnon.
“So the only thing I would ask for you in the press — these are new members,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Give them an opportunity before you claim what you believe they have done and what they will do.”
A spokesman for Mr. McCarthy told Axios that Ms. Greene’s newly surfaced Facebook posts were “deeply disturbing” and that he planned to “have a conversation” with Ms. Greene about them.
For many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, it was not a large leap from a collection of conspiracy theories to “Stop the Steal.”
There was the “Pizzagate” claim of 2016 that Democrats were running a child sex ring in the back of a popular Washington pizza parlor. And the debunked allegation that a low-level Democratic National Committee aide was murdered for leaking Hillary Clinton’s emails. And the theory that mass shootings, including the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School were false flag operations by liberals to promote gun control.
President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of election fraud, which animated the riot, have reassembled a cast of conspiratorial theorizers that go way back, all of whom spread false theories about mass shootings and went on to embrace Mr. Trump’s baseless fraud claims.
“If you look at these Sandy Hook folks, it’s not like they slipped on a banana peel and believe in Sandy Hook conspiracy theories. This is an expression of a whole worldview, or an expression of personality traits,” Joe Uscinski, an assistant professor at the University of Miami and an author of the book “American Conspiracy Theories,” said in an interview. “You’re not going to change someone’s mind. And even if you did, it wouldn’t matter because you’re going to end up in a game of Whac-a-Mole.”