Senate

Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal

Democrats are bristling over a GOP effort to pit senators against the party's newly resurgent progressive base.

Republicans, fresh off a border funding fight they are widely viewed as having lost, are eager to pivot to offense as they hunt for 2020 fodder, when several Senate Democrats will be running for president.

Republicans say Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is mulling a series of votes to try to jam Democratic senators, whom he has repeatedly tried to paint as pushed off center by the "radical left." His first step this week was fast-tracking the "Green New Deal" resolution by putting it on the Senate calendar.

But top Democrats are brushing off the potential political fallout of McConnell's tactics, comparing them to a "political stunt."

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Republicans were using a routine maneuver because it "amuses some small-minded senators."

"How many times have Republicans tried to call up a Democrat's budget resolution and Democrats tried to call up the Republican budget resolution ... to embarrass the president's party?" Durbin asked. "This is not a new tactic, this is old school. He's going to do it, we do it. Everybody does it."

Instead, Democrats are trying to turn the tables and the spotlight on the environmental record of Republicans, arguing they've done nothing to combat climate change since taking control of the chamber in 2015.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a lengthy floor speech, called McConnell's move a "cheap, cynical political ploy" and a "pointless partisan game." He added that the GOP leader should "bring it on."

"You think it might embarrass Democrats to vote on a nonbinding resolution that some of us may support but not others?" he asked. "Trust me, we'll be fine, because the American people know that our entire party believes that climate change is happening and it's caused by humans."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who gives a weekly "Time to Wake Up" speech, quickly aligned himself with Schumer saying he was a "proud member of the 'bring it on' caucus." 

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) accused Republicans of "misreading the moment" and said McConnell was "trolling" Democrats.

"This is supposed to be the world's greatest deliberative body. It is not Twitter," Schatz said. "This is supposed to be where we solve the greatest problems facing the United States. This not where we troll each other."

After a year of extreme weather, including fires and hurricanes, and reports that 2018 was one of the warmest years on record, Democrats say they have public opinion on their side.

Two polls released in January found that a majority of Americans believe climate change is happening.

More than 70 percent of Americans held that view, according to a University of Chicago and Associated Press poll. Meanwhile, 73 percent told researchers at Yale University and George Mason University that global warming is happening, marking a 10 point shift from March 2015.

The Green New Deal, which strives for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States while creating millions of "good, high-wage jobs," has zero chance of passing in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to advance.

But Republicans argue a vote on the measure will force Democrats to go "on the record" ahead of 2020, and they are eager to exploit the party's complicated dynamics, which include red-state Democrats and several senators running for president.

In addition to the Green New Deal, Republicans are mulling votes on proposals touted by progressives, including "Medicare for all." 

McConnell has also teed up a vote for later this month on a bill that would require medical care be given to infants that survive abortions after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) sparked a political firestorm over his comments about an abortion bill proposed in the state legislature.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of several GOP senators to mount failed presidential bids in 2016, predicted that the Democratic presidential horse race would inevitably bleed over into the day-to-day operations of the Senate.

"I think it made it hard for the conference to kind of gel," he said.

And the "bring it on" mantra from leadership and liberal senators comes as moderates are wary of embracing the proposal, which was put forth by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Only 12 senators have endorsed the resolution in the Senate. Schumer, during his floor speech, called on McConnell to allow Democrats to offer amendments once the resolution comes up for a vote.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership, said at an Axios event that while she understands the "passion" on the issue, "a little more time, a little more communication, a little more input from a wider variety of folks on language would have made a difference."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who represents a state that swung heavily toward Trump in 2016, compared the progressive proposal to a "dream" instead of a concrete deal.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a purple-state senator who is mulling his own White House bid, backed a "green new deal" during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast but didn't specifically endorse Ocasio-Cortez's resolution, predicting that there would be "all kind of specific pieces of legislation on all kinds of issues coming out."

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) added that there shouldn't be a "litmus test," whether it's on energy policy or other top issues like health care.

"I think when it was introduced, it seemed to be obvious that that would be happen," he said about McConnell's decision to force a vote. "But you know I don't mind voting on stuff."

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