Activists, environment, and midterms: President Biden in Seattle

President Joe Biden is in Seattle for Earth Day 2022, in time to talk about the importance of clean energy and speak to working families about his efforts to make life more affordable.

His visit comes six months ahead of the midterm elections, in which some Democrats are facing tough contests that may, ultimately, decide which party controls the U.S. House and Senate.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith spoke to Seattle Now this week about what the president’s visit portends.

“Traditionally, the party of the president in power does very poorly in the midterms. And add to that that this president, while he is still relatively popular among Democrats, he is really in the basement in terms of his overall approval rating,” Keith told KUOW’s Patricia Murphy. “So, the sheer political dynamics are like bright red warning signals for Democrats”

One such Democrat is Rep. Kim Schrier, who represents Washington’s 8th Congressional District. She’ll be part of the president’s entourage while he is in town.

But how much will Biden’s visit help her and other vulnerable Democrats facing viable Republican challengers?

KUOW’s Angela King caught up with political analyst and columnist Joni Balter and Erica Barnett, editor and publisher of PubliCola, to talk about what they’re expecting from the president.


Biden’s first stop is Seward Park, where he’ll sign an executive order to protect old-growth forests from wildfires.

NPR reports the order requires the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to come up with a shared definition of mature and old-growth forests. Then, they’ll have a year to tally them up across the United States. That data will be used come up with new policies to manage and conserve these wooded areas.

Not everyone is convinced Biden’s administration is doing enough for the environment or to combat our changing climate, though. That’s no surprise in Washington state, where officials and the public alike have embarked on ambitious goals to reduce our collective carbon footprint and more.

Climate activists tell KUOW’s John Ryan they’ll be at Seward Park to protest the president’s speech. They’re particularly taking issue with Biden’s push to expand fossil fuel production on federal lands.

Biden announced new oil drilling on public lands last week, in part because he’s been under pressure to address rising gasoline prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Seattle activist Thomas Meyer is with the group Food and Water Watch.

“Every time the federal government makes plans to drill for more oil and burn more oil, or gas or coal, we’re just digging ourselves deeper into a hole,” Meyer says. “And we have very little time to turn our entire energy system around.”

This month, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called investing in new fossil fuel production “moral and economic madness.”

First and foremost, we must triple the speed of the shift to renewable energy. That means moving investments and subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables — now. In most cases, renewables are already far cheaper. It means governments ending the funding of coal, not just abroad, but at home. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

If the president wants to appeal to those less impressed with his efforts on that front, PubliCola’s Erica Barnett says he should also highlight investments made in things like Sound Transit’s light rail expansion; that project is poised to get more than $380 million from the latest federal infrastructure deal.

“These are the kind of infrastructure investments that really reduce climate emissions, not charging stations for Teslas,” she says.


Folks in the Pacific Northwest have a reputation for climate-conscious conversations that sometimes translate to policy.

Even while activists decry fossil fuels, though, Washingtonians have also been disturbed by rising gas prices. That’s largely out of Biden’s hands; the U.S. is part of a global oil market.

But as NPR’s Tamara Keith points out, that doesn’t mean people don’t want to see the president “doing something, anything ” about rising prices at the pump and inflation across the board.

“So, lowering costs for American families is a phrase that you are going to hear a lot of, as long as inflation is this red-hot concern facing the American public,” she says, noting that the Biden administration has not been talking much about the Build Back Better initiative, which could highlight a lot of progress.

RELATED: What is President Biden up to in Seattle?

If Biden’s visit is going to shore up any additional support for someone like Rep. Kim Schrier, Balter says something like prescription costs that affects many people in our state could be a winning issue; as in most elections, the topic is likely to come up during Schrier’s General Election race.

Biden will also appear at Green River College, where he’s expected to talk about his efforts to help families impacted by all the recent inflation.

But while he’s in Seattle, Barnett notes, he’s talking to a younger, educated audience.

She says an announcement regarding student loan debt would resonate with that crowd, especially among younger Democrats who were less than jazzed about Biden being the party’s nominee in 2020.

“The average student loan debt in Washington state is more than $33,000 a year,” she says. “In a highly educated city like Seattle, where the average house price is nearing a million dollars and rent is thousands of dollars a month, relief from student loan debt is a more pressing issue.”

Still, she’s not holding her breath.


caption: Kim Schrier speaks to a large crowd on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, at the Hilton in Bellevue.

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Even if it’s not explicitly said, Biden’s visit and inclusion of Rep. Kim Schrier ahead of the 2022 midterm elections is no accident. Democrats could lose control of either the House or Senate or both.

How effective this trip is in terms of protecting any incumbent Democrats depends on how big the Republican tide is by November, says Balter.

“One thing that could change the political calculus is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade. That is expected this summer,” she says. “We have seen many states across the country taking us back decades on this simple right for women to control their own bodies. If the court strikes this down, suburban women — yes, including in Schrier’s district — who maybe don’t love Biden on other issues could swing back to Democrats on this one issue alone.”

KUOW’s John Ryan contributed to this report.

Article Source: KUOW