House Republicans and the Obama administration are strategically leaking documents to reporters in an attempt to gain the upper hand in what is becoming a political story that could play in the 2012 elections: President Obama’s green jobs agenda and the downfall of the stimulus-backed solar company Solyndra.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released an e-mail showing that the company’s executives had originally agreed to testify at a hearing, scheduled for Friday, before telling the committee through a lawyer that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to testify.
That was the latest in a string of e-mails uncovered by the Energy and Commerce Committee and later released to the news media.
While dueling strategies seeking political advantage are the norm in Washington, they rarely permeate the wonky world of energy policy to this degree. And while political strategists say that while it remains to be seen if either Republicans or Democrats can “win” this story, renewable energy has already lost.
“The whole thing is a bit of a meaningless tennis match to the citizens who have to pay for this mess,” said Mike McKenna, a longtime GOP strategist with an expertise in energy issues. “Which side is winning? I have no clue. But the momentum on the green agenda has been stopped.”
Over the past week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has strategically released other e-mails to The Washington Post and ABC News suggesting the administration tried to rush approval of the $535-million loan guarantee the Energy Department awarded Solyndra, and also that White House officials feared the political fallout of Solyndra’s bankruptcy.
The solar startup that once served as a backdrop for Obama’s stimulus and clean-energy agenda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Aug. 31, laying off 1,100 workers and sparking an FBI raid of its Fremont, Calif., headquarters.
The Republican investigation into Solyndra and its questions about Obama’s promise of boosting the economy with green jobs are the subject of congressional hearings Thursday and Friday.
With even liberal Jon Stewart on The Daily Show calling Solyndra a “custom-made Obama scandal,” the White House has launched its own public relations offensive, releasing letters to news organizations that show congressional Republicans who are lambasting Obama over Solyndra have themselves sought support for federally backed clean energy.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg News cited a letter showing that House Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked for federal help for clean-energy projects in his state. (Issa’s committee holds Thursday’s hearing titled, “How Obama’s Green Energy Agenda is Killing Jobs.”) The White House, the Energy Department, and the Democratic National Committee then e-mailed other reporters offering copies of the letter.
Reporters also were sent letters showing House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, once sought federal help for clean-energy projects in their districts or states.
“If someone is looking for logic and consistency from Congress, they might want to start looking somewhere else,” said Tom Wolf, executive director of the Energy Council at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.