Green New Deal vote tests Dem unity in Senate

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (N.Y.) this week will face his biggest test keeping White House hopefuls aligned with the rest of the Democratic caucus when Republicans force a vote on the Green New Deal.

Schumer wants all Democrats to vote “present” on the motion to proceed to the ambitious, and divisive, climate change measure championed by firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezMarkey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge The Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan MORE (D-N.Y.), despite the fact that several presidential candidates in the chamber have already endorsed her proposal.

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The Senate’s companion resolution, sponsored by Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyMarkey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge The Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Sanders defends job losses from ending use of fossil fuels MORE (D-Mass.), is co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Krystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand Gillibrand relaunches PAC to elect women Analysis: 2020 digital spending vastly outpaces TV ads Two years after Maria, Puerto Rico awaits disaster funds MORE (D-N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted MORE (D-Mass.), Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharMSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot The two most important mental health reforms the Trump administration should consider Sanders searches for answers amid Warren steamroller MORE (D-Minn.), who are all running for president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Liberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' MORE (R-Ky.) scheduled the vote in hopes of driving a wedge between 2020 Democrats, who are trying to appeal to the party’s liberal base, and more centrist Democrats who face competitive reelection campaigns next year.

McConnell says the Green New Deal has all the components for “a good old-fashioned, state-planned economy,” and that it is “garden variety 20th century socialism.”

The proposal says the federal government must achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create millions of high-wage jobs by investing in sustainable infrastructure.

It sets a 10-year schedule to meet 100 percent of the nation’s power demand through renewable, zero-emission energy sources and upgrade all buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency.

Democrats argue McConnell is setting up a “sham vote” and note that liberal advocacy groups like the Sunrise Movement and Credo Action that back the Green New Deal have given senators a pass to vote “present.” They also say polling shows majorities of Americans think climate change is a serious problem that requires action.

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The Green New Deal, however, is a sensitive topic within Democratic circles and has failed to garner sponsorship from even ardent environmentalists like Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court MORE (D-R.I.).

Whitehouse says the Green New Deal “doesn’t have substance yet” and describes it as “aspirational.”

He said he likes the aspiration but hasn’t co-sponsored the resolution.

“I’m a legislator and I like bills,” he said.

Whitehouse instead is working on legislation to implement a “carbon fee,” an idea that has the backing of prominent economists such as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Nobel laureate Robert Shiller.

A Democratic senator familiar with internal discussions about strategy said Schumer has asked all caucus members to vote “present” on the Green New Deal.

But at least one Democrat is preparing to break ranks. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures O'Rourke: Many Democrats 'complicit' in gun problem MORE of West Virginia, a major coal-producing state, said he plans to vote against the measure.

“They can do what they want to do. I’m not a present-type guy,” he told The Hill last month. 

Schumer has yet to face a test of this magnitude since the 116th Congress began in early January.

He easily kept Democrats on the same page during the 35-day partial government shutdown and with a resolution disapproving of President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE’s emergency border declaration — two issues that badly divided Republicans.

Senate Republicans say the Green New Deal vote will be the first of several tests they're planning for Schumer.

“That will definitely happen,” said a GOP aide, adding that Democrats could also face votes on legislation previously sponsored by Sanders to provide Medicare for all, as well as votes on U.S.-Israel policy and Democratic calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“The fact that Joe Manchin is going to vote against the Green New Deal makes it tough to justify voting present,” said the aide about the upcoming vote.

The Republican strategy is to force rank-and-file Democrats, including those facing competitive races like Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenCruz endorses GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Meghan McCain: Lewandowski Senate run would be 'an absolutely ridiculous crap show' Super PAC targets Lewandowski with ad amid Senate speculation MORE (D-N.H.), to stand with or against colleagues running for president on big, bold liberal proposals.

“Given that the presidential campaign is in full swing already, everyone is going to have to answer for the most prominent presidential candidates who are going so far left,” said the GOP aide, referring to the broader Democratic caucus.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, says it won’t be easy for presidential contenders to vote against the Green New Deal because it’s very popular with a base that expects candidates to stand by their principles.

“Green New Deal is very popular with the voters,” she said.

Polling by her firm, Lake Research Partners, found that 76 percent of likely Democratic primary and caucus voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada have a favorable view of the Green New Deal, and 47 percent have a very favorable view.

“If it gets defined as investing in clean energy, creating jobs and dealing with climate change, it’s going to be very, very popular,” she added.

Lake said that while general election voters are more forgiving of candidates who vote against the principles they endorse because they see specific legislation as flawed, Democratic primary voters want to see lawmakers back up their talk with action.

“Swing voters will tolerate the idea of flawed-bill-but-good-idea and want to know more about it. In the case of the base, they’re going to want to know, ‘What are you doing?’” she said. “They’re going to want to know, 'Why didn’t you fix the bill? Why didn’t you introduce your own?'”

A vote on Medicare for all could pose another test of Democratic unity.

Sanders introduced a bill in 2017 to establish a universal Medicare program that won the support of Harris, Booker, Gillibrand and Warren. Those candidates have doubled down on their support for universal Medicare as they jockey for position ahead of the 2020 Democratic primary.

Lake Research Partners found that 80 percent of likely Democratic primary and caucus voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada have a favorable view of Medicare for all, with 53 percent voicing strong support for it.

Harris said during a CNN town hall in January that she felt “very strongly” about ensuring every American has access to health care and even went so far as to advocate for doing away with private health plans.

Booker and Warren, who support Medicare for all, aren’t yet willing to call for an end to private insurance plans.

Other Democrat argue that Medicare for all is not sound policy.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken Hillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Senate Democrats want answers on 'dangerous' Amazon delivery system MORE (D-Ohio), who opted against a White House run, warned last month that providing Medicare for all Americans is not practical. He instead wants to lower the age for Medicare eligibility to 55.

McConnell sees this as another wedge issue to use against Democrats.

“Democrats have taken the pulse of the American people and here’s what they’ve decided: They’ve decided that American seniors want their Medicare hollowed out until the only thing left is the name,” the GOP leader said on the Senate floor earlier this month. “They decided that middle-class families are eager to be kicked off their health insurance plans and forced into a one-size-fits-all government alternative.”

When Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesConservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal 5 takeaways from combative Democratic debate MORE (R-Mont.) offered a single-payer health insurance proposal as an amendment in 2017 to embarrass Democrats, 43 Democratic senators voted “present” and four centrist Democrats facing tough races, as well as Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year MORE (Maine), voted against it.

Lake says that while concepts of investing in clean energy and creating jobs and dramatically increasing access to health care are popular issues, votes on Medicare for all and the Green New Deal pose political risks.

“The biggest problem for our side with these bills coming up so early — and this of course is why McConnell is pushing it — is that we haven’t been able to define these bills yet,” Lake said. “As concepts they’re very popular, but we haven’t been able to define these bills, and [Republicans] have the bully pulpit to define it in negative ways.” 

McConnell may also try to divide Democrats running for president from the rest of the caucus by proposing votes on pro-Israel legislation.

Harris, Sanders, Warren and Gillibrand have said they will skip the annual American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington this week.

MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group that’s popular among the Democratic base, called on presidential candidates to boycott the event because of AIPAC’s opposition to former President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and for allegedly promoting “anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric.”

Other Democrats, including Schumer and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden blasts Trump, demands he release transcript of call with foreign leader Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week MORE (Calif.), plan to attend the conference.

McConnell could force a vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, a topic that divided House Democrats. He needled Democrats on the subject earlier this month.

Apparently, within the Speaker’s new far-left Democrat majority, even a symbolic resolution condemning anti-Semitism seems to be a bridge too far,” McConnell said on the floor.

The GOP leader may also force a vote on the controversial proposal endorsed by some Democratic presidential candidates, such as Gillibrand, to abolish ICE.

Warren last year called for rebuilding the nation’s immigration system “from top to bottom, starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our values.”

Schumer has tried to temper that movement by calling for the agency to be reformed instead of eliminated.

“Look, ICE does some functions that are very much needed,” he told reporters in July. “Reform ICE? Yes. That’s what I think we should do. It needs reform.”