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‘The Three Climateers’ represent a new type of climate hawk on Capitol Hill

The Early 202

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In today's edition …  Biden quietly signs law enforcement mental health bill, upsetting some supporters ... What we're watching: Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, and the hearing to unseal the affidavit that led to the FBI Mar-a-Lago search … Poll Watch: Record high say life will be worse for the next generation … but first …

On the Hill

'The Three Climateers' represent a new type of climate hawk on Capitol Hill

When the largest climate bill in U.S. history passed the Senate earlier this month, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) choked back tears.

“Now I can look my kids in the eye,” he told reporters. 

For Schatz, one of Congress’s most vocal climate hawks, the moment marked the triumphant culmination of a long, treacherous effort to muscle climate legislation through the upper chamber.

“It was relief,” Schatz said in an interview. “It was a celebration of the work that everybody had done, but most importantly to me is it represented hope that the United States government can address the biggest single challenge of this political generation.”

It was “a political miracle,” Schatz added.

‘The Three Climateers’

Climate change was not always a winning issue for Democrats, and even now, Democratic strategists admit that it won't play well in every district or state in November's midterm elections.

The lowest point for climate advocates was in 2010, when moderate Senate Democrats facing head winds in their reelection efforts urged President Barack Obama to walk away from a major cap-and-trade bill after a bruising fight to pass the Affordable Care Act. (He did.) Little happened since — until now.

Schatz has not attracted as much attention for his climate advocacy as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has delivered nearly 300 “Time to Wake Up” speeches on the Senate floor to urge legislative action on global warming. But Schatz came to the Senate with climate credentials: He asked Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii's governor at the time, to appoint him to serve the rest of longtime Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye’s term after Inouye’s death in 2012 because climate was Schatz's top priority. 

Schatz's arrival gave Whitehouse, the most vocal climate activist in the Senate, a more soft-spoken partner. They organized an overnight talk-a-thon to raise awareness about climate in 2014 and introduced a bill to tax carbon emissions. And in 2015, they traveled to the United Nations climate conference in Paris, where a major climate accord was adopted. 

Soon, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a close friend of Schatz's, made the duo a trio. 

Schatz, Heinrich and Whitehouse embody a new type of climate hawk on Capitol Hill — one that resonates with a younger generation of climate activists. The three are relatively young for the Senate: Schatz is 49, Heinrich is 50 and Whitehouse is 66 years old.

The trio also comes from different parts of the country that are facing different climate disasters.

In Hawaii, sea levels have risen about 10 inches since 1950, increasing the frequency of dangerous flooding for coastal communities. In New Mexico, a stretch of the Rio Grande recently ran dry for the first time in 40 years amid a historic megadrought. And in Rhode Island, rising ocean temperatures are placing a major strain on the state’s lobster industry.

They have made climate change a primary focus of their Senate careers.

“The three climateers [is what] we have called ourselves at various times to try and cheer ourselves up,” Whitehouse said in an interview. 

In November 2021, Schatz, Whitehouse and Heinrich flew to the COP26 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Some attendees of the summit called them the “three amigos” because the trio appeared inseparable.

The three have been meeting every week since 2019 to plan legislative and social media campaigns around climate. They would speak regularly at weekly closed-door Democratic lunches to keep climate top of mind for their caucus. 

They also saw a shift in their colleagues. 

Schatz said the climate movement — and their persistence — transformed “an issue that used to divide Democrats into an issue that motivates and unites Democrats.”

“We reached the point in this Congress where it was a major issue for the vast majority of the caucus,” Heinrich said. “I think leadership and [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer (D-N.Y.), in particular, responded to that. I mean, he saw the activism that was occurring in his home state and then also the way the entire caucus was making that a priority.”

Whitehouse said the Trump administration helped.

“The absolutely foul and filthy way that they've dealt with pollution and energy issues was so flagrant and so appalling that even if this wasn't your top issue, you just couldn't help but be disgusted what you saw in that administration,” Whitehouse said. “I think that had a very strong binding effect on the caucus.”

The Manchin negotiations

During negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the “three climateers” were in constant contact with the White House, Schumer and his staff, and made clear they wouldn’t kill a deal because of its imperfections. They weren't in the room but said they trusted Schumer to represent their interests. The senators were also in constant contact with Manchin (as was nearly every other Democratic senator.)

“We just wouldn't take ‘no’ for an answer,” Schatz said, but acknowledged that they had to be very flexible in accepting what was left on the cutting room floor.

“The North Star from inside the Schumer team was always not so much politics but like how many million of metric tons of emissions can we avoid,” Heinrich said in an interview.

“I met with a group of them and I told them there might have to be things in there that we don’t like to reach an agreement with Manchin. They said get what you can, just make it a good bill,” Schumer said in a statement of Schatz, Whitehouse, Heinrich as well as Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). “They had my back. They really did.”

While Schumer was negotiating with Manchin, Schatz was the lead progressive negotiator with Manchin on his desire to overhaul permitting for energy projects, a separate deal that was essential to the main bill. When the Schumer-Manchin talks fell apart, the permitting negotiations did, too. 

Schatz encouraged the administration to move to a Plan B of executive actions and declaring a climate emergency both as an alternative but also hoping it Manchin would come back to the table. But President Biden never declared that climate emergency and didn’t move on the executive actions.

Then suddenly a deal. 

Former senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who was part of a failed effort to pass the cap-and-trade climate bill in 2010, said she got a phone call from an emotional Schatz after the Inflation Reduction Act passed the Senate. 

“He just called to say, ‘Thanks for laying the groundwork,’” she recalled.

At the White House

Biden quietly signs law enforcement mental health bill, upsetting some supporters

Late Tuesday night, after Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into a law, he also signed another bill — with much less fanfare.

The Public Safety Officer Support Act expands a Justice Department program that provides death and disability benefits for police, firefighters and other first responders to treat mental health injuries on par with physical health injuries and provide survivor benefits to officers who die by suicide. 

The bill has the support of every major police group, every senator and 402 House members. Democrats can tout it as supporting law enforcement and their families. But Biden signed the bill with no public event; few people even knew that he'd signed the legislation. 

Erin Smith, the widow of D.C. police officer Jeffrey Smith, who took his life one week after he was hit on the head by a crow bar during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, praised the signing of the bill but said its below-the-radar nature was offensive. 

“I am disappointed to know that this bill will not be receiving the attention it deserves, and it feels like suicides again are being pushed to the side just as they have been for years, because of political calculations that have nothing to do with all the men and women who don’t get a choice, including my husband, of when to put on their badge and go to work,” Smith said in a statement.

The White House did not respond to repeated questions about why the bill was signed without any notice or announcement.

Not everyone is upset.

“I'm not ready to throw stones because there wasn't a bigger signing ceremony,” said Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, which backed the bill. “Because the most important thing is that, in part because of the White House's support, that very important legislation is passed.”

Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), one of the bill's co-sponsors, said it creates “a safeguard system to include disability is a mental illness, mental anxiety, depression, as a result of line of duty service.”

Mental health needs of law enforcement has been on the rise, police groups say. Last year, 179 officers died by suicide and 2019 saw the most officer suicides, with 248, according to Blue H.E.L.P., a law enforcement mental health advocacy organization. 

What we're watching

Today’s a big day for Trumpworld. Here’s what to expect:

Morning

  • Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg is expected to plead guilty to a tax fraud scheme that lasted for 15 years. The plea deal – which would reduce his sentence from up to 15 years to five months – requires that Weisselberg testify at the company’s October 24 trial, making him the prosecution’s key witness.

Afternoon

  • Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart will hold a hearing on whether to unseal the affidavit that led to last week’s FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Reinhart could side with the Justice Department and decide not to release the affidavit or choose to release a redacted version.
  • The affidavit, which the Justice Department has opposed unsealing, likely contains witness names and other sensitive information. The DOJ argues that unsealing the affidavit could put the investigation and the safety of those named at risk.

Poll Watch

Record high say life will be worse for the next generation

From Post polling analyst Emily Guskin: For months now, Americans have said that the country and economy are in bad shape. And new data show pessimism is extending to hopes for the country’s long-term future, too. 

A Fox News poll released last week found 70 percent of registered voters predicted that life for the next generation of Americans will be worse than it is today, up from 47 percent in 2018, 41 percent in 2020 and a record high since Fox began asking the question in 2002. 

Majorities across parties believe life will get worse in a generation: 76 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of independents and 57 percent of Democrats – the party in charge of the federal government right now. 

Today’s economic concerns likely explain part of the shift. The poll found 48 percent of registered voters rated economic conditions as "poor," down from 57 percent in June but up from 33 percent last summer. Strongly negative ratings fall below Great Recession levels, with 74 percent rating the economy as poor in January 2009.

Other polls point to similar feelings of bleakness about the next generation’s economic standing: A spring 2022 Pew Research Center poll found 72 percent of Americans saying that they expect American children today will be worse off financially than their parents – up from 57 percent in 2020 and mirroring increases in other countries. 

Ratings of the economy seesaw with the business cycle and the current mood is a significant political liability for Democrats heading into the midterm elections. What’s less clear is whether an extended period of record high inflation will have a lasting impact on Americans’ confidence that living standards will improve.

The Media

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Context: Dr. Oz owns 10 houses, and he’s lying about it.

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