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Will Senate Reconciliation Save Biden’s Climate Pledges?

By using the maneuver, U.S. President Joe Biden will avoid Republican opposition but still faces plenty from within his own party.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Senate majority leader walks to office.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks to his office after speaking on the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Aug. 11. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Taliban make more gains in Afghanistan, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi chooses a new foreign minister, and wildfires rage across the Mediterranean.

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Biden Moves Step Closer on Climate Agenda

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Taliban make more gains in Afghanistan, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi chooses a new foreign minister, and wildfires rage across the Mediterranean.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Biden Moves Step Closer on Climate Agenda

U.S. President Joe Biden’s agenda took a major step forward on Wednesday when the Senate approved a $3.5 trillion budget plan that would fund climate change priorities and social programs.

The way the blueprint was passed means it will avoid partisan quarrels. By using a method known as reconciliation, the Senate can—briefly—operate like a parliament and approve a resolution that has a direct budgetary impact with a simple majority unencumbered by filibusters that require a 60-vote supermajority. A budget resolution must also pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, and then committees will write a detailed bill and seek to pass that legislation with a simple majority in both chambers.

Although the maneuver neuters any opposition filibustering, a battle within the Democratic Party—where discipline must hold to see the legislation through—is still to play out. Ironically for a candidate who gained the Democratic nomination by defeating his more progressive challengers, Biden must now win over a conservative-leaning cadre of Democrats if any bill is to pass.

Sen. Joe Manchin of coal-producing West Virginia, considered one of the potential holdouts, has already signaled his displeasure with the scale of the bill, despite his assenting vote on Wednesday. Another, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, of the recently turned toss-up state of Arizona, has also expressed worries about the size of the plan, which the White House hopes will be covered by tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.

Climate provisions. Coming the same week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—along with the extreme weather events that come with it—is virtually inevitable, the climate provisions funded in the budget will go a long way toward fulfilling Biden’s green agenda.

They include tax credits to promote clean-energy investments, setting standards in the U.S. power sector to reduce carbon emissions from electricity by 80 percent in the next 10 years, and a plan to impose fees on imported goods from high polluting countries. It would also fund a Civilian Climate Corps, a program to employ thousands of young Americans in conservation efforts.

Balancing act. Calling it the “worst thought-out idea” he’d ever seen, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, criticized the plans and warned if Democrats succeeded, it would create “a dramatic increase of gas prices and heating prices.”

Such short-term political concerns are clearly also present in the White House, which—despite climate pledges—made a demand of OPEC nations on Wednesday: Pump more oil. Warning that high gasoline prices “risk harming the ongoing global recovery,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called on the cartel of oil-producing nations to do more to reverse production cuts.

What We’re Following Today 

Taliban advance. The Taliban captured another provincial capital on Wednesday, its ninth in less than a week as it seized Faizabad, Afghanistan. The continued advance comes as a U.S. defense official, citing intelligence estimates, said Kabul could fall into Taliban hands as soon as November. Speaking on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested he would host the Taliban’s leader to force a peaceful resolution. “Why? Because if we do not get control of things like this at a high level, it wont be possible to secure peace this time in Afghanistan,” Erdogan told CNN.

As more cities fall, Lynne O’Donnell, writing in Foreign Policy, explores where it has all gone wrong for Afghanistan’s defense forces.

Raisi chooses foreign minister. Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, named Hossein Amirabdollahian as his choice for foreign minister on Wednesday. Like Raisi, Amirabdollahian brings a more conservative voice to the role than his predecessor, Mohammad Javad Zarif. He is known to be close with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as Hezbollah and has previously served as the deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs. Amirabdollahians nomination was part of a list of candidates submitted to Iran’s parliament on Wednesday, where lawmakers have a week to decide on whether to confirm or reject Raisi’s choices.

Qin in Foggy Bottom. Wendy Sherman, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, will host China’s new ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, at the U.S. State Department this afternoon as the diplomat settles in to his first few weeks in the role. Despite worries of another practitioner of “wolf warrior” diplomacy arriving on U.S. shores, Qin’s background suggests a more nuanced approach is likely. Writing in Foreign Policy Melinda Liu profiles a “deft, wily player” who knows “how to bend with the prevailing wind from Beijing.”

Keep an Eye On

Belarus tit-for-tat. Julie Fisher, the U.S. ambassador to Belarus, will no longer be allowed take up her position at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk in retaliation for fresh U.S. sanctions imposed on Monday. Fisher, who would be the first U.S. ambassador to Belarus since 2008, has been living in neighboring Lithuania while awaiting an entry visa. Belarus’s foreign ministry also demanded the U.S. Embassy reduce its diplomatic staff to five people.

“In view of Washington’s actions to halt cooperation in all spheres and strangle our country economically, we see no reason in the presence of a significant number of diplomats at the U.S. diplomatic mission,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatoly Glaz said on Wednesday.

Mediterranean wildfires. Nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea continue to battle wildfires exacerbated by extreme heat across the region. At least 65 people have been killed following blazes in Algeria while Greece evacuated 20 villages as firefighters enter a 10th day combating fires in the Peloponnese region. In Italy, authorities say they launched more than 3,000 operations in Sicily and Calabria on Wednesday alone. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has declared three days of mourning for the country’s dead.

Odds and Ends

A Canadian man has been charged with dangerous operation of an aircraft after he landed his helicopter in the parking lot of a local school so his passenger could enter the Dairy Queen across the street to buy an ice cream cake.

Al Jellicoe, the mayor of the small town of Tisdale in central Saskatchewan, initially thought the red chopper was an air ambulance but quickly realized his error when he noticed the passenger’s destination. “Well, I thought somebody must be hungry,” Jellicoe said. The pilot now faces a court hearing on Sept. 7.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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