Republican lawmakers are facing anger at town hall meetings for their positions on climate change.
Activists are using the in-person events in lawmakers' home districts during the April recess to push Republicans to fight global warming and resist President Trump’s rollback of environmental regulations.
It’s part of a nationwide effort, organized in part by left-wing groups, to call out Republicans on healthcare, on Trump’s alleged ties to Russia and on taxes, among other liberal causes, with climate change getting new attention.
Activists and organizers say they know they’re unlikely to change lawmakers’ minds significantly but are reveling in the opportunity to put them on the spot in front of angry voters.
Constituents are frequently asking their lawmakers whether they believe in climate change or support certain policies — and loudly jeering answers they don't like.
“I believe the climate changes,” Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance Vietnam shadow hangs over Biden decision on Afghanistan Kamala Harris and our shameless politics MORE (R-Mich.), a high-profile conservative, said at one event when asked. “The question is, what do you do about it? The data set we’re dealing with is very small,” he continued, to boos.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) told one town hall that human activity is only “a tiny part of” the cause of climate change, according to A News Cafe, a local website. That contrasts with the scientific consensus on global warming, which is that greenhouse gases from human activity are the main driver.
“We see manipulations by federal agencies on what the actual climate temperatures are,” he continued, followed by booing from the audience.
Sometimes the questions are more policy specific, regarding attempts by the Trump administration and the GOP Congress to roll back former President Obama’s ambitious climate agenda.
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) refused to endorse the Paris climate agreement, which Trump initially promised to exit but is now considering staying in.
“The problem I have with the Paris accord is that [the] United States is being held to a separate standard than countries like China and India,” he said, according to the Alamosa News. “You can recall when they had the Olympics in China they brought in fans to blow out the pollution.”
The crowd reacted with hostility to his answer. Amid boos, one attendee yelled, “America has to lead!”
At least some of the action came thanks to the Recess Resistance — a campaign by MoveOn.org, the loosely organized Indivisible coalition and other progressive outfits like green group 350 Action — to put Republicans on the defensive.
“The Trump administration is waging an all-out attack on our climate and the environment, and we can’t let that go unchallenged by lawmakers. We believe that leadership comes from pressure, and we’re exerting that pressure,” said Jenny Marienau, campaigns director for the United States at 350 Action, the policy and election affiliate of 350.org.
350 Action has been emailing its members to push them to show up at town halls and has coordinated with MoveOn.org to distribute materials and talking points.
The group has encouraged voters to push their members on issues like Trump’s proposed 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), his plan to roll back the EPA’s climate change rule for power plants, his approvals of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines and more. They are also encouraging members to share videos or other materials from the events.
“We want to show our members of Congress that if they don’t do everything in their power to protect our communities and our climate, then we’ll have to do everything in ours to replace them,” Marienau.
The GOP, though, has largely been dismissive of the town hall protests, saying there’s big money behind them and the activists don’t represent their constituents.
“The environmentalist left spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying and failing to beat President Trump last year, so it’s no surprise to see them doing everything they can to oppose him,” said Jeremy Adler, spokesman for America Rising Squared.
“The reality is that the new administration’s message of protecting the environment while working toward a new era in American energy innovation resonates strongly with the American public, while their alarmist extremism just doesn’t.”
Republican pollster Frank Luntz said this week that the town hall protests will backfire on Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.
“The protesters are so uncivil, so disrespectful,” Luntz told Fox News’ Dana Perino on “The Factor.”
“And I think that that’s going to backfire against the Democrats and help the Republicans. Because in the end, the American people don’t [want] yelling and screaming, they want you to get the job done.”
It's also unclear how much of the protests have been the result of liberal groups' mobilizing activists and how much is grassroots.
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) has been dismissive of the protests, seeing them as orchestrated.
“What I'm worried about is that the mainstream press can't Google ‘Indivisible’ and the Soros-funded movement that is pushing all of this,” Brat told The Hill in February, after he faced a rowdy town hall on issues including climate, which Brat said “changes all the time.”
“Indivisible’s game plan is to create chaos and humiliate public officials. The mainstream press can't seem to do investigative journalism at all,” he said.
Brat was referring to unfounded reports that the protests are funded by liberal billionaire donor George Soros.
Others see the climate protests at town halls as signs of a shift in Americans' views, separate from the efforts on the left to mobilize activists.
Tony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication, said Americans’ opinions on climate change are moving to the left.
The number of people who believe the climate is changing is as high as it’s ever been, Leiserowitz said. And now 46 percent of conservative Republicans believe the Earth is warming, a big increase in recent years.
“That’s the first sign that things might be changing,” he said. “This could be the beginning of a wave that’s moving through Republican circles, but I think it’s too early to know that yet.”
Leiserowitz said climate also serves as an easy rallying cry for Democrats and an opportunity to paint Republicans and Trump as out of touch.
“These protests bubbled up in the wake of the election and have continued ever since,” he said. “And now they’re being directed at member after member after member of Congress.”