“He doesn’t try to be the dean of the green advocacy machine,” in the words of one ally, and given his limited reach in Biden World, he lacks any sort of Midas touch. At this phase, he’s simply another creative political mind lending what he can to the issue about which he cares the most.
Nowhere is that clearer than the unlikely pairing of the consummate Washington insider with the rambunctious youthful outsiders in the Sunrise Movement. “The power that Sunrise brought to the climate movement was so obvious,” Goldfuss said. The two, as might be expected, often disagreed: Weber and his fellow Sunrisers sought more urgency around climate goals, and Podesta was more concerned about getting the frame of the message right. But at a small strategy meeting in early 2019, Weber was surprised to hear Podesta agree with points that he and other left-wing operatives in attendance—such as Saikat Chakrabarti, who was then Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff—were making.
It helped to have someone like Podesta on their side. “If you’re Sunrise, one of your biggest problems with the media and establishment Democratic politicians is that what you’re saying is perceived as radical or naïve or left-wing,” Weber explained. “Being able to have John say the same things as us helped us break through.” And Podesta knew there were other times for outsider activists to intervene when he, the senior statesman of Washington, could not. As the Biden transition began at the end of 2020, Podesta realized he needed Sunrise’s help. He asked his Sunrise allies if they might make some noise and publicly object to potential appointees with significant ties to the fossil fuel industry, hoping Biden might make a clean break with the precedent from past Democratic administrations, which had welcomed the revolving door from those industries into key climate and energy jobs. It was the right role for Sunrise, which demanded purity tests, and not for Podesta, who had worked alongside some of those industry-friendly folks.
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