Senate votes that climate change is real

The Senate on Wednesday voted that “climate change is real and is not a hoax” as Democrats used the Keystone XL pipeline debate to force votes on the politically charged issue ahead of the 2016 elections.

The “hoax” amendment to the pipeline bill from Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’ MORE (D-R.I.) passed 98-1, with only Mississippi Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Trump endorses Arkansas governor's reelection bid ahead of primary Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE, the chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm, voting “no.”

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In a surprise, the Senate’s leading skeptic of climate science, Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain Overnight Energy: EPA moves to roll back chemical plant safety rule | NASA chief says humans contribute to climate change | Pruitt gets outside lawyer MORE (R-Okla.), voted in favor of the amendment — but made clear he doesn’t believe humans are the primary driver of climate change.

The GOP “yes” votes also included three of the GOP’s leading contenders for the White House: Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy Greatest risk to the Republican majority? Rising interest rates GOP Senate primary heats up in Montana MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Senate Democrats look for traction on gas prices GOP Senate primary heats up in Montana MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioAdministration works to assuage critics over ZTE deal Hillicon Valley: Judge rules Trump can't block Twitter users | ISIS content finds a home on Google Plus | Rubio rips ZTE demands as 'terrible deal' | Bill would protect kids' data Overnight Finance: Trump eyes 'different structure' for China trade deal | Trump mulls auto import tariffs | Banks get green light to offer short-term loans MORE (Fla.).

Republicans backed Inhofe’s stance in a second vote, rejecting an amendment from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) that stated, “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

The “significantly” in the provision is what many Republicans pointed to as a point of contention as they blocked the amendment in a 50-49 vote, short of the 60 that was needed for approval.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senators introduce bill to measure progress in opioid fight Dems win nail-biter in charity congressional soccer game MORE (R-Alaska), who voted for Whitehouse’s amendment but rejected Schatz’s, said the inclusion of “significantly” was “sufficient to merit a ‘no’ vote.”

Five Republicans broke with the party line and voted for Schatz’s amendment: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senate panel to consider ban on prescription drug 'gag clauses' Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn MORE (Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote Dem leaders request bipartisan meeting on Russia probe Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (S.C.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (Ill.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senate panel to consider ban on prescription drug 'gag clauses' Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (Tenn.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteThe Hill's Morning Report: Koch Network re-evaluating midterm strategy amid frustrations with GOP Audit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years MORE (N.H.). Kirk and Ayotte are up for reelection in 2016.

In an attempt to provide political cover for Republicans, Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA GOP lawmakers want Trump to stop bashing Congress Chao names participants selected for drone pilot program MORE (R-N.D.) put forward an alternative that expressed the sense of the Senate that the Keystone oil pipeline would not significantly impact the environment or contribute to global emissions. The provision included a line stating that humans contribute to climate change but without the word “significantly.” 

Fifteen Republicans voted for that amendment, including Paul, making him the only 2016 contender to go on record as saying that human beings contribute to climate change.

The other Republicans who voted for Hoeven’s measure were: Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanLongtime tax aide leaving Senate Finance Committee Ex-McConnell policy aide joining lobby firm WATCH: Sen. Flake: “More doubtful” North Korean summit will happen  MORE (Ohio), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFor .2 billion, taxpayers should get more than Congress’s trial balloons Overnight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (Ariz.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerAdministration works to assuage critics over ZTE deal Overnight Defense: Trump decision on Korea summit coming 'next week' | China disinvited from major naval exercise | Senate sends VA reform bill to Trump Senate sends major VA reform bill to Trump's desk MORE (Tenn.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate Finance Committee releases 22 opioid bills to mark up in ‘coming weeks’ Republicans think Trump is losing trade war McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess MORE (Utah), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerKennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive McConnell: Midterms will be 'very challenging' for GOP Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE (Nev.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Jeff Flake: Trump has 'debased' the presidency Senate Democrats look for traction on gas prices MORE (Ariz.), Mike Rounds (S.D.) and Murkowski, Graham, Collins, Ayotte, Kirk and  Alexander.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Trump decision on Korea summit coming 'next week' | China disinvited from major naval exercise | Senate sends VA reform bill to Trump Senate sends major VA reform bill to Trump's desk What's wrong with the Democratic Party? Just look at California MORE (I-Vt.) called the climate change votes “a step forward” for Republicans. 

“I think what is exciting is that today we saw for the first time — a number, a minority — but some Republicans going onboard and saying that climate change is real and it’s caused by human activity,” Sanders said.

“And I suspect that you are going to see in the months to come, more and more Republicans forced to acknowledge that reality,” he added.

Sanders said the Senate would vote Thursday on his amendment, which goes one step further by stating that climate change is “already causing severe problems all over the world, we have a window of opportunity and we have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency.”

Wednesday’s votes came after senators duked it out on the Senate floor in a wide-ranging debate over climate change and its relationship — or lack thereof — to the $8 billion pipeline project, which is undergoing federal review.

“It starts by admitting you have a problem, just like many other areas of human life,” Whitehouse said of Republicans’ skepticism on climate change.

Graham, who is mulling a White House bid, said the fact that climate change is real he “completely understand[s] and accept[s],” but as to the amount human are contributing, “I don’t know.”

“It does make sense that man-made emissions are contributing to the global warming effect — the greenhouse gas effect seems to me scientifically sound,” Graham said. “The problem is that how you fix this globally is going to require more than just the U.S. being involved.”

Graham has said in the past he believes climate change is occurring but scolded Democrats for using “gimmicks” and “tricks” that hurt their cause.

“You are undercutting a real genuine debate. You made climate change a religion rather than a problem. It is a problem,” Graham said.

He said Democrats should not be blocking construction of a pipeline that he said would benefit the U.S. and help transport crude oil from not just Canada but key production hotspots in the U.S.

High-ranking Republicans have in recent months taken to deflecting questions about climate change in interviews, repeatedly stating, “I am not a scientist.” Environmental advocates have expressed hope that the refrain is the beginning of a shift in the GOP on the issue.

Still, President Obama, who has made climate change a central focus of his second term, turned the “scientist” response into a punch line in his State of the Union address.

“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act,” Obama said. “Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.”

The Senate also voted Wednesday on three other amendments to the Keystone bill, with none of them passing.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeDenial of services to same-sex couples can harm their health GOP Senate primary heats up in Montana Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE’s (R-Utah) amendment to limit lawyer fees on endangered species lawsuits was voted down 54-45. Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions MORE’s (D-Ill.) measure on the transportation of petroleum coke fell in a 41-58 vote. And Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) amendment on coal refuse plants was voted down 54-45.

This story was updated at 8:39 p.m.