John Podesta first began advising Barack Obama in the summer of 2008, when the junior senator’s improbable rise from mixed-race son of a single mother to president of the United States was acquiring a giddy sense of inevitability. Climate change was a top concern for Podesta — and, it seemed, for Obama himself. In July, a group of experts informally representing the Democratic candidate traveled to Beijing for confidential talks with Chinese officials, hoping to foster a new era of climate cooperation after eight years of obstruction on the part of the Bush Administration.
Podesta, who as White House chief of staff had steered Bill Clinton’s presidency through the impeachment crisis, soon became Obama’s transition manager, helping him identify and vet prospective Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials. “I fought very hard to create a separate office [in the White House] for climate and energy,” Podesta told me. And the person initially chosen to run that office — the former EPA administrator Carol Browner — was, in Podesta’s opinion, “extraordinarily well qualified.”