President Joe Biden Monday followed through on his promise to veto a Congressional resolution that repealed a new labor rule allowing retirement plan managers to consider climate change and other environmental, social and governance risk factors in their investment decisions.
“I just signed this veto because the legislation passed by the Congress would put at risk the retirement savings of individuals across the country,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “They couldn’t take into consideration investments that would be impacted by climate, impacted by overpaying executives and that’s why I decided to veto it.”
The five-month-old Department of Labor rule that the Republican-crafted bill overturned allows fiduciaries to consider ESG factors as they invest in privately held retirement plans. The rule reverses Trump administration guidance on the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act that required fund managers focus on “financial over nonpecuniary benefits.”
The labor rule covers $12 trillion of savings for 150 million Americans.
The dispute marks the latest battle in a culture war over the role of ESG factors in investing. Most of the battles have taken place on the state level, and Biden’s veto marks the first major skirmish on the federal level so far.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Biden “sided with woke Wall Street over workers” with his veto.
“It is clear that President Biden wants Wall Street to use your hard-earned money not to grow your savings, but to fund a far-left political agenda,” McCarthy said in a statement.
A group of state and municipal financial officers from a nonprofit called For the Long Term said they support Biden’s veto.
“The idea that Americans should trust their retirement savings to the judgment of the angriest and most volatile politicians instead of unemotional investment professionals defies common sense,” the officials said in a statement. “To properly fulfill their fiduciary duty, successful investors must gather all available information about what can impact their investments — ESG is simply more information. That is why there is so much demand for ESG data.”
The resolution, introduced by Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, was invoked under the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to overturn new rules with a simple majority. The House passed the measure by a vote of 216-204 and the Senate approved it with a vote of 50-46 after Democrats Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana crossed party lines.
Congress would need to muster a two-thirds majority in each chamber to overturn Biden’s veto. The House has set a veto override vote for Thursday. Given the relatively narrow margins the resolution passed by, the chances of the veto being overridden are vanishingly small.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit targeting the new rule was filed by 26 Republican-led states in January. The states argued the rule would diminish tax revenue from retirement distributions and hurt states, like Louisiana, Texas and Utah, where fossil fuel industries have a significant presence.