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 WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights | Court sides with tribes in Dakota Access Pipeline case | Trump officials walk away from ethanol court fight Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' MORE (D-R.I.) passed 98-1, with only Mississippi Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerStimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package McConnell sets Friday night deadline for bipartisan deal on stimulus 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 InhofeGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic 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 CruzTrump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCOVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition Pressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 Hoyer says House expects to pass coronavirus bill on Friday MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLessons from the front line — Florida's fight with sea level rise SNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Senior State Department official headed to Peru to bring home stranded Americans, Rubio says 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 MurkowskiGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break Turning the virus into a virtue — for the planet 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 CollinsSenate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Trump signals easing coronavirus restrictions | Tensions boil over as Senate fails to advance stimulus bill | Pelosi previews .5T House stimulus package MORE (Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamUK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break How much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill MORE (S.C.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkOn the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Biden campaign releases video to explain 'what really happened in Ukraine' Why Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry MORE (Ill.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday MORE (Tenn.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteLobbying World On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs 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 HoevenGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC GOP divided on next steps for massive stimulus package Overnight Energy: Democratic lawmakers seek emissions reductions in airline bailout | House Dems warn Trump against oil industry bailout | GOP senators ask Saudis to stabilize oil market 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 PortmanSenators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Coronavirus stimulus talks hit setback as crisis deepens MORE (Ohio), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal Ernst calls for public presidential campaign funds to go to masks, protective equipment President Trump is right — Now's the time for 'all hands on deck' MORE (Ariz.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (Tenn.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Trump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google MORE (Utah), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Nev.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE (Ariz.), Mike Rounds (S.D.) and Murkowski, Graham, Collins, Ayotte, Kirk and  Alexander.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Oil price drop threatens US fracking boom Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines 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 LeeTrump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Paul defends actions before coronavirus diagnosis, calls for more testing MORE’s (R-Utah) amendment to limit lawyer fees on endangered species lawsuits was voted down 54-45. Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLegal immigrants at risk of losing status during coronavirus pandemic Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill Senators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic 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.