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Obama climate chief John Podesta issues 2016 warning to GOP

John Podesta, the architect of President Obama's climate strategy, thinks that "climate denier" candidates will fare poorly in 2016.
White House counselor John Podesta speaks during a breakfast briefing held by The Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2014.
White House counselor John Podesta speaks during a breakfast briefing held by The Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2014.

Republicans have been crowing this month that President Obama’s sweeping new regulations on power plant emissions will doom Democrats in coal-producing states this November.

White House counselor John Podesta, the architect of President Obama’s newly announced power plant regulations, argues this is shortsighted. The farther Republicans get from accepting climate science, the more damage they’ll do to their presidential hopes.

“Anyone who tries to run as a climate denier in 2016 is going to have a very hard time running on that nationally,” Podesta told a group of reporters at a breakfast briefing held by The Christian Science Monitor.

Podesta, who was brought in to the administration this year in part to manage its climate push, acknowledged that Democrats will face some “political challenges” in coal-producing states. In Kentucky, for example, Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes has fiercely criticized the newly announced rules as a “war on coal.” But Podesta cited a recent Washington Post/ABC poll showing 70% support for regulating power plant emissions as evidence that the overall momentum favored the White House’s approach. The likely Republican presidential field is either hostile to climate science or unwilling to endorse significant government measures to prevent it. 

That doesn’t mean Democrats should make climate change their only selling point on the power plant rules, however. Podesta repeatedly brought up public health gains that come with reining in coal-fired plants, such as reduced asthma attacks among children that are unrelated to the climate goals driving the emissions reductions.

“Anyone who wants to go out and talk about the benefits of this rule, do what the president did: Visit a children’s hospital in their home state,” he said. “I think they’ll find that the politics are as such that you can defend taking action here and the public will support that.”

Podesta previously served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, making him a potential bridge between the Obama White House and a possible Hillary Clinton administration. Asked about the differences between the Democratic leaders, Podesta demurred. He was willing to offer a three-word summary of how Hillary Clinton would govern as president, however: “Disciplined, tough, and determined."