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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 WhitehouseCommittee chairman aims for House vote on opioid bills by Memorial Day Regulators seek to remove barriers to electric grid storage Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections MORE (D-R.I.) passed 98-1, with only Mississippi Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerAt least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together McConnell urging Mississippi gov to appoint himself if Cochran resigns: report Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve 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 InhofeOvernight Defense: First Gitmo transfer under Trump could happen 'soon' | White House says Trump has confidence in VA chief | Russia concedes 'dozens' of civilians injured in Syria clash Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived House passes deal to end shutdown 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 CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioColbert: Students taking action on gun violence 'give me hope' Lawmakers feel pressure on guns Florida lawmaker's aide fired after claiming shooting survivors were 'actors' 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 MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework 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 Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (S.C.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (Ill.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Trump health chief backs CDC research on gun violence | GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix | Groups sue over cuts to teen pregnancy program GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix 30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help MORE (Tenn.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteAudit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years No, the US did not spend million on a gas station in Afghanistan 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 Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA GOP anxious with Trump on trade GOP lawmakers to Trump: Don't fire Mueller 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 PortmanCommittee chairman aims for House vote on opioid bills by Memorial Day Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March MORE (Ohio), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (Ariz.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (Tenn.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (Utah), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe siren of Baton Rouge Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (Nev.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election MORE (Ariz.), Mike Rounds (S.D.) and Murkowski, Graham, Collins, Ayotte, Kirk and  Alexander.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward 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 LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE’s (R-Utah) amendment to limit lawyer fees on endangered species lawsuits was voted down 54-45. Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinAmerica’s waning commitment to the promise of the First Amendment Senate rejects Trump immigration plan What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes 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.