The White House seeks to assure that Center for American Progress founder John Podesta’s firm opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline won’t impact the decision making on the matter. But isn’t removing himself from any other issues he and CAP has expressed opinions on.
Because the pipeline would stretch from Canada through the United States, the pipeline that proponents estimate would create at least 20,000 jobs and produce at least 800,000 barrels of oil, is under review by the State Department. But eventually it will be up to the White House to decide on State’s recommendation.
Podesta, who is joining the administration as a new presidential counsel, has removed himself from any White House approval or disapproval of the pipeline.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that “recuse” wasn’t the right word.
“There is no suggestion of a conflict of interest financial or otherwise as it relates to Mr. Podesta’s views or opinions on this matter,” Earnest said. “Mr. Podesta approached Mr. [Dennis] McDonough, the chief of staff, and suggested to him that Mr. Podesta shouldn’t work on the policy making process of the Keystone pipeline.”
Earlier this year, the State Department released a preliminary report on Keystone XL saying the pipeline was unlikely to cause significant environmental impact.
“This is a policy process that has been in place for several years now and having in in the process at the end or near the very end doesn’t seem to be the best way to carry out that process,” Earnest said. He added, “His views on this are well know but there are people who have been looking at this for a number of years and are viewing this from a variety of perspectives. We want to make sure the policy outcome reflects the president’s views in an impartial way.”
Earnest took several questions on Podesta, and why it was he took himself out of decision making on this matter but not various other policy positions from the liberal think tank Center for American Progress that the administration will be considering.
“There’s no doubt he has expressed his views on other things,” Earnest said. “Many of those views are quite frankly less controversial and aren’t as much of a lighting rod as this particular issue is.”
Earnest stressed again that Podesta is taking himself out of Keystone decision making and was not pressured to stay out.
“Those views were publicly expressed before he started working here,” Earnest said. “So it is his view that it is better if his well know views are not injected at the very end of that process.”
The House passed a bipartisan bill this summer to build the pipeline, which has support from organized labor and business groups. However, environmental groups oppose the pipeline construction.
Podesta served as White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and was also ran Obama’s transition team when the president was elected in 2008. He founded CAP in 2003 to be a policy counterweight to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.