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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Biden tries to build back cooler and a new and improved Power Up

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning and welcome to The Early 202 newsletter — Power Up's glow up, so to speak. 

If you loved Power Up, we think you’ll love The Early 202 even more. We’ll continue to bring you the most important political stories from The Washington Post and elsewhere. And we are thrilled to announce that Theo Meyer is joining The Early 202 team. Theo hails from Politico and will help us deliver even more of the scoops you count on. Theo has been covering politics for the last nine years and has a deep well of sources inside Washington. He’ll focus on the White House and K Street while Jackie will report from Capitol Hill. Send us your tips here.

We’d love to hear what you think of our new format here. And if you’re looking for a great lunchtime read, today would be a great day to sign up for The Daily 202, our deep dive into policy and the people driving the day anchored by my colleague Olivier Knox. Thanks for waking up with us.

🚨: “Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday will unveil new rules governing federal monitors responsible for overseeing police reforms among local jurisdictions, including setting caps on their tenure and budgets, and requiring them to undergo more training,” our colleague David Nakamura reports.

At the White House

Biden fends off climate challenges in Washington and on the West Coast

Biden tries to build back cooler: President Biden is engaged in discussions with Democratic lawmakers about including a proposed tax on imports from other countries that aren't pulling their weight in the global battle to reduce carbon emissions.

The potential “carbon border adjustment proposal” could become one of the major programs to combat climate change in the $3.5 trillion budget proposal now being fiercely debated on Capitol Hill. Biden and many progressive lawmakers have insisted the budget bill be used to battle what they describe as an existential threat, while others, like Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), are far more worried about the package's price tag.

In an interview on Sunday, Ali Zaidi, the White House deputy national climate adviser, said the White House had “been engaging with legislators on the design elements of a potential carbon border adjustment proposal. Zaidi declined to say how big the $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure needs to be to deliver on the administration's climate goals. (Climate groups recently said the bill should contain between $577 and $746 billion in climate-related programs.)

Biden backed a carbon border tax during the campaign, Zaidi pointed out. But one current carbon border tax proposal introduced this summer by Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), could rake in millions from big polluters like China but force U.S. consumers to pay more for imported goods.

“It’s really important to [Biden] that we pursue the climate agenda in a way that simultaneously supports our domestic competitiveness,” he said.

White House interest in the proposal comes as Biden will today head to Idaho and California on his second trip in as many weeks to survey destruction exacerbated by climate change this time the damage wrought by this season’s wildfires, which have burned more than 5.5 million acres so far this year. And the House Energy and Commerce Committee will start to mark up climate-related proposals in the reconciliation bill.

Other climate goals

Asked what the White House’s position is on a methane fee — which would tax emissions of the climate-warming gas — Zaidi broadly praised efforts to slash methane emissions. It’s “one of the most important things we can be doing, especially in terms of the near-term picture, when it comes to climate,” he said.

Both the methane fee and the carbon border tax are included in the budget blueprint Senate Democrats passed last month. The prospect of a methane fee has already touched off a lobbying battle, with the American Petroleum Institute and its allies on one sides and environmental and progressive groups on the other.

Manchin underscored the intraparty tensions Sunday when he criticized another plank of House Democrats’ proposal to fight climate change: a proposal to fine utilities that fail to cut the amount of power they provide from coal- and gas-fired plants and pay them to transition to cleaner energy sources.

Manchin, who represents one of the country’s top coal-producing states, argued on CNN that utilities were already making such a transition.

“Now they’re wanting to pay companies for what they’re already doing,” he complained. “It makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions.”  

Manchin is right that utilities are already moving to cut emissions, Zaidi said. “All we’re talking about is appreciating the urgency of this moment, of this decade, and speeding up that trend,” he said.

Countdown to Glasgow

Democrats are facing pressure to finish the bill with less than two months to go before Biden is set to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for a major climate summit. “This budget bill needs to pass in order for the United States to have credibility in Glasgow,” Alice Hill, a former Obama administration climate official, told the New York Times last week.

But Zaidi, perhaps aware of the Herculean task of passing the bill by early November, said the Biden administration already had a climate record to be proud of.

“We absolutely go into Glasgow with credibility, built on the actions that we’ve taken every single day since this administration started,” he said.

On the Hill

It's not an investigation but ‘oversight,’ Rep. Meeks says of his Afghanistan hearing

The not investigation: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this morning in the first in a series of hearings digging into what went wrong in Afghanistan over the past two decades. (Blinken will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28.)

Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), the Foreign Affairs chairman, criticized the American withdrawal last month in the days after the fall of Kabul. “It could have been done better,” Meeks told NY1. “There’s no question about that.”

But Meeks was less critical in an interview on Friday, saying he gave Biden high marks for his efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghans ahead of the president’s Aug. 31 deadline to leave the country.

“It was a rough first quarter, but by the third quarter it seemed a lot of things had changed,” he said, using a sports metaphor. Still, “I don’t like having a rough first quarter.”

He agreed with Biden’s declaration the evacuation effort was an “extraordinary success” and said history would judge it favorably.

“Was it a perfect evacuation?” he asked. “Absolutely not. But if you talk about it in its entirety and what the results were, you will have to say it was a successful operation.

Still, Meeks said Blinken and future witnesses should expect “difficult questions,” including why U.S. forces didn’t keep Bagram air base open and how many Americans and Afghans eligible for special immigrant visas who want to leave Afghanistan remain in the country.

Meeks has already requested documents from the administration and said he plans to request more, as well as documents from the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations.

But he shied away from describing what his committee is doing as an investigation.

“This is oversight,” he said. “This is our oversight responsibilities. We’re not investigating, we’re overseeing.”

Neal's pay-fors revealed

The $2.9 trillion answer: “When Republicans sought to pass a giant tax cut along party lines in 2017, Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, led his party’s effort to brand the legislation as a tax break for the rich,” the New York Times’s Emily Cochrane writes

  • “Four years later, Neal is now the top tax writer in the House and on the brink of leading Democrats in advancing a $3.5 trillion spending package.” Until yesterday, Neal remained “notably enigmatic about how he will pay for the bill.” 

Here’s how, per our colleagues Tony Romm and Jeff Stein

  • 39.6 percent tax increase for Americans earning over $435,000
  • 26.5 percent corporate tax increase for large, profitable business
  • 25 percent capital gains rate increase paid by investors
  • A new surtax on high-income individuals
  • Tax increases on tobacco and nicotine, and cryptocurrency

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.