Green New Deal vote tests Dem unity in Senate

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDem senator describes 'overcrowded quarters,' 'harsh odor' at border facilities Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez tears into Trump's immigration agenda: 'It's about ethnicity and racism' George Takei: US has hit a new low under Trump #IStandWithErica trends after Georgia Democratic lawmaker says she was told to 'go back where you came from' MORE (D-N.Y.), despite the fact that several presidential candidates in the chamber have already endorsed her proposal.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Senate’s companion resolution, sponsored by Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator FTC looks to update children's internet privacy rules MORE (D-Mass.), is co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBullock: I would not have endorsed health care for undocumented immigrants on debate stage Harris faces pressure to define policy proposals Biden campaign rips 'Medicare for All,' calls on Dems to protect Affordable Care Act MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage MORE (D-N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' What to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' Democrats slam Puerto Rico governor over 'shameful' comments, back protesters MORE (D-Mass.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Cory Booker talks about 'geeking out' over Rosario Dawson's Marvel role Harris faces pressure to define policy proposals MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage Protect American patients and innovation from a harmful MedTech Tax increase MORE (D-Minn.), who are all running for president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Funding a strong defense of our nation's democratic process can't wait The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants 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.

ADVERTISEMENT
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 WhitehouseHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits 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) ManchinPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller 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 ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse 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 BrownThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei 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 DainesTwo GOP lawmakers back Trump's comments on Democratic lawmakers: 'I'll pay for their tickets out of this country' Former Navy officer, teacher enters race to unseat GOP senator in Montana Democratic senators want candidates to take Swalwell's hint and drop out 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 KingPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey 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 PelosiDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets 10 questions for Robert Mueller Ocasio-Cortez tears into Trump's immigration agenda: 'It's about ethnicity and racism' 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.”