Inslee takes steps toward presidential run

Inslee takes steps toward presidential run
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NEW ORLEANS — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is taking new steps toward a potential run for the White House, forming a federal political action committee to pay for his travel and laying out an agenda heavy on combating climate change that he hopes will help him stand out in a crowded Democratic primary field.

In an interview with The Hill, Inslee said he would formally decide whether to run before the Washington state legislative session ends in April.

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"We'll make the decision at the right time. We are actively considering it, and that has been going well," Inslee said Saturday of a potential White House bid. He added that he is not yet an active candidate.

But he has begun trying to carve out a niche, one that implicitly differentiates himself from bigger-name contenders who are also eyeing a race.

"I'm not a senator, I'm a governor. Governors govern, and senators orate," Inslee said.

Inslee on Saturday relinquished the chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) after a year in which his party picked up seven gubernatorial offices, the largest single-year swing since Republicans won 10 governorships in the 1994 elections.

Running the DGA gave Inslee access to big donors who might fund a presidential campaign. It also gave him the chance to stump with Democratic candidates running in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, which are likely to kick off the presidential nominating process, and to road-test his message in those states.

To pay for future travel as he explores a run, Inslee formed Vision PAC, which has already started raising federal dollars. The PAC will soon report paying three staffers, a source close to Inslee's campaign said: Longtime political hand Aisling Kerins, fundraiser Tracy Newman and communications strategist Jamal Raad.

The Seattle Times and the Northwest News Network first reported that Inslee formed the PAC on Sunday.

Inslee said he would focus a potential campaign on climate change, economic growth and a checklist of progressive issues like net neutrality, paid family leave and expanded voting rights.

Other potential contenders are staking out their lanes, competing to be the most liberal contender or the biggest champion of civil rights, the boldest consumer advocate or the best able to communicate with rural and exurban voters in Midwestern states. Inslee's lane is combatting climate change and recasting the issue as an opportunity for economic growth.

"I believe that climate change ought to be at the forefront of our national vision and agenda for economic growth. I think that 2020 should be a referendum on climate change against a party that is shackled to the forces of ignorance and climate denial," he said. "We've got to make it a forefront issue, a primary issue, not a subordinate issue."

Republicans say Inslee's record — both in Washington, D.C., as a member of the House and in Olympia, Wash. — is notably spartan, even on climate change issues. A ballot measure to create a fee on carbon emissions, which Inslee backed, failed by a wide margin in November.

"Jay Inslee has no chance of being elected as the Democratic presidential nominee. Even in a crowded field, Inslee stands out for his lack of accomplishments in a political career that started over 30 years ago," said Randy Pepple, a GOP strategist who ran former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna's 2012 campaign against Inslee.

After Democrats picked up seats in the state legislature in this year's midterm elections, Inslee said he planned an aggressive climate change agenda this year, one that has eluded him in previous years, when the legislature was more narrowly divided.

"He has been unable to pass anything — law or initiative — on his so-called biggest priority, climate change. If he can’t pass anything in progressive Washington state, why would we elect him to lead our nation?" Pepple asked.

Inslee said he applauded House Democrats pushing what they call the Green New Deal, an effort to repackage combatting climate change into an economic frame. He pointed to his 2009 book, "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy," written while he served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as evidence that he had been ahead of the curve.

"I wrote the Green New Deal. I wrote it 10 years ago. Welcome to the party. I'm very happy that some other candidates are talking about climate change. It's a good thing," he said.

While running the DGA, Inslee formed a subsidiary group run by a former aide, Democratic Climate Action, to build a network of climate change activists around the country.

He said, too, that he would highlight the economic recovery in Washington state, much of which has taken place during his term and a half in office.

"I have helped lead my state to an economic growth model that I believe is the envy of the nation, and should be a model for the nation. Were I to run, Washington state would be the model to show Washington, D.C., how it's done," Inslee said.

Washington state's unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent when Inslee took office in 2013. Today, its unemployment rate is at 4.3 percent, the lowest rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track of state-level unemployment rates in 1976.

The state's gross domestic product grew at a 3.6 percent annual rate in the first quarter of the year, the fastest in the nation, and the average weekly wage is higher than every other U.S. jurisdiction except the District of Columbia.

"I'm happy to put that record up against anyone else running potentially in 2020 to have that record of recent achievement," Inslee said.

Inslee said the Democratic nominee in 2020 needs to be able to stand up to President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE. He said he had confronted Trump directly, during a White House meeting of the National Governors Association in which he challenged Trump on arming teachers in schools.

"For some reason that I don't understand, people in D.C. are intimidated by him. I don't feel that intimidation. I feel emboldened in his presence," Inslee said. "We need more people in D.C. [challenging Trump], to his face, in his presence, while he pouts, which he does."

--This report was updated at 12:41 p.m.