Moderate Senate Democrats were silent this week when Fox News Digital asked for a comment on President Biden’s decision to appoint climate czar John Kerry’s replacement without Senate confirmation.
In an announcement late last month, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Kerry would soon step down from his role at the State Department and that clean energy czar John Podesta would “continue to lead our global climate efforts” in a new role helping the world transition to green energy. But the White House said Podesta would take on the role of senior adviser to the president for international climate policy.
While Kerry will step down as special presidential envoy for climate (SPEC), Biden will not nominate a direct replacement, and Kerry’s staff will report to another State Department official while Podesta coordinates policy with the SPEC office from the White House. The arrangement allows Podesta to sidestep a congressionally mandated Senate confirmation since the SPEC role will technically be left vacant.
“Upon Secretary Kerry’s departure, the existing SPEC state team will report to Rich Verma, the deputy secretary of state for management and resources,” a White House official told Fox News Digital. “John will continue to oversee the White House Office of Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation while working closely with the State Department.”
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Shortly after taking office in 2021, Biden appointed Kerry to be the first-ever SPEC, a role that granted him a spot in the president’s cabinet and National Security Council but didn’t require a Senate confirmation vote.
However, in part because of Kerry’s appointment, Congress passed a provision in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which Biden signed into law in December 2021, prohibiting the president from appointing any State Department special envoy “without the advice and consent of the Senate.”
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In response to the White House’s maneuver skirting Senate confirmation for Podesta, several more moderate Democrats, including senators Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., in addition to Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., who caucuses with Democrats, were all silent. The lawmakers either ignored or declined to comment when contacted by Fox News Digital.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“Any appointed administration official that will heavily rely on State Department staff and resources should be accountable to congressional committees with jurisdiction over State, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” Jim Risch, R-Idaho, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News Digital in a statement.
“It is not unprecedented for someone serving in the White House to go through Senate confirmation,” he added. “If the Biden administration would like for the role of senior adviser for international climate policy to be effective, it should send Mr. Podesta’s appointment to our committee for consideration.”
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John Barrasso, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, added that Biden knows Podesta would never survive Senate confirmation.
“John Podesta is a John Kerry clone. He will peddle more of the same attacks on American energy,” Barrasso told Fox News Digital. “He will protect China’s status as a free rider on international climate agreements. Joe Biden knows Podesta’s radical ideas could never stand up to the scrutiny of Senate confirmation.”
And Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who serves as the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy, noted that Podesta has a documented history with officials tied to the Chinese Communist Party.
John Podesta runs a think-tank funded by big tech, he’s spent years working for dark-money climate activists, and has said he has the ‘highest regard’ for CCP officials,” Hawley told Fox News Digital. “This man should be nowhere near the federal government, so it’s no shock the Biden Administration wants to avoid Senate confirmation and a public eye on their terrible pick.”
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According to emails previously reviewed by Fox News Digital, Podesta held multiple meetings in 2015 and 2016 with Tung Chee-hwa, the longtime vice chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He also engaged with the high-ranking Chinese official years prior while leading the Center for American Progress, the think tank he founded in 2003, even referring to him as his “friend from Hong Kong.”
Since taking on the SPEC position, Kerry has traveled worldwide, attending high-profile climate summits and diplomatic engagements in an effort to push a global transition from fossil fuels to green energy alternatives. However, his office has remained tight-lipped about its internal operations and staff members, sparking criticism from lawmakers who have demanded greater transparency.
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The SPEC office is housed at the State Department and has an estimated $13.9 million annual budget with approval for 45 personnel, the majority of whom are unknown.
In September 2022, Biden appointed Podesta to lead implementation of the billions of dollars in green energy program funding earmarked in the Inflation Reduction Act. Podesta then staffed his office with several left-wing climate activists.