In mid-March, the Biden administration formally approved the Willow oil drilling project on federally owned landed in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. The ConocoPhillips-led effort is a massive operation, with the potential to produce 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years and release an additional 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually. It is also a major campaign promise betrayal, one that came as a surprise: “No more drilling on federal lands,” Joe Biden said in 2020. “Period. Period. Period. Period.”
In fact, the Biden administration has recently been doing quite a few things seemingly out of character with the first two years of his presidency. That change is especially confounding given that his embrace of a series of progressive policies in his first half-term preceded a historic overperformance in November’s midterm elections. Despite his reputation as a centrist, Biden has pursued an agenda—from climate to labor to judicial appointments—well to the left of his reputedly progressive Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama. But now Biden seems to be tacking to the right, embracing policies that look much more like those championed by the 44th president.
Perhaps that’s no surprise: These Obama-style policies have coincided with a major change atop the White House hierarchy of personnel. In late January, progressive ally Ron Klain announced he’d be stepping down as chief of staff; he was replaced by former corporate consultant and Obama apparatchik Jeffrey Zients. Zients has also brought Obama alums Anita Dunn and Steve Ricchetti—both effectively former lobbyists who have been criticized for evading the ethics constraints put on lobbyists—into greater decision-making positions.
From the moment Zients has arrived, the administration has either reversed course or leaned further into conservative policies. On Arctic drilling, immigration, and more, the White House has staked out new positions fiercely at odds with activist groups and with many members of the Democratic caucus. Those same policies, though, would have been very much at home in the Obama administration, which expanded Arctic drilling and pursued punitive action on immigration. [Continue reading…]