Energy & Environment

Senate gears up for Green New Deal vote

Greg Nash

The Senate will vote as soon as Tuesday on a motion to proceed on the Green New Deal, a broad climate change bill that has divided Democrats, and which Republicans hope to use as a wedge issue in 2020.

Democrats are broadly expected to vote present on the legislation as a way of deflecting a political attack from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who scheduled the vote to put the minority in a difficult position.

They have sought to cast the scheduling of the vote as a political trick.

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“This vote is a sham and little more than a political ploy to protect vulnerable Republicans from having to defend their climate science denial,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Even though he is the Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal legislation, he will vote present on the legislation.

Groups supporting the Green New Deal are essentially giving members a free pass to not vote in favor of the measure.

A representative of the Sunrise Movement, the youth climate action group that went viral earlier this year through a confrontation in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) office over the Green New Deal, said they aren’t pushing for a vote in the House — where Democrats have the majority.

Stephen O’Hanlon, communications director for the group, said it is pushing for members to sponsor the legislation but sees votes as pointless while President Trump is in the White House.

“We aren’t calling for a vote in the House,” he said. “The point isn’t to pass the resolution, it’s a conversation starter. We don’t have any illusion that we are going to pass comprehensive climate legislation through Donald Trump.”

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the high-profile House sponsor of the Green New Deal, is likewise giving Senate Democrats a pass.

“The GOP’s whole game of wasting votes in Congress to target others ‘on the record,’ for [legislation] they have no intent to pass, is a disgrace,” she tweeted over the weekend. “Stop wasting the American peoples’ time [and] learn to govern. Our jobs aren’t for campaigning, & that’s exactly what these bluff-votes are for.”

At the same time, if McConnell’s gambit was to divide Democrats, there are some signs it could be working.

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Senate Democratic leaders say they aren’t entirely sure how everyone in the caucus will vote.

“I don’t know the latest whip count, but the overwhelming majority will probably vote present,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).

Asked if any Democrats might vote for the resolution, Durbin said, “That I don’t know.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has already indicated that he plans to vote against the legislation. The plans of others, such as Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), remain up in the air.

It’s also at least possible that some Senate Democrats running for the White House will break ranks to earn some attention and stand out from the crowd.

Six White House hopefuls have co-sponsored the resolution: Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Spokespeople for those candidates either declined to say how their bosses would vote or didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Democratic polling shows the Green New Deal has strong support from likely Democratic voters in early primary and caucus states.

Polling from Lake Research Partners, a Democratic firm, shows that 76 percent of likely Democratic primary voters and caucus participants surveyed in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada view the Green New Deal favorably. Forty-seven percent of likely Democratic voters polled in those states have a strongly favorable view.

Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who advised Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, said presidential candidates might feel some pressure to vote in favor of the resolution, as lawmakers are usually expected to vote for legislation they co-sponsor.

But he said Democrats can defend not voting for the resolution by explaining it’s a political trap being laid by the GOP. That argument is helped by the fact that McConnell is detested by the Democratic base for famously refusing to give former President Obama’s third Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing or a floor vote.

Devine said it’s “wise” for Democratic leadership to urge their caucus members to vote present so as “not to be pulled into some kind of political fight where Republicans can take whatever is done and distort it and use it for their own political purposes.”

Republican leaders are doing everything they can to seize the advantage in the unusual vote.

“It looks like Democrats are trying to duck, dodge and distance themselves from a vote on their own Green New Deal.  Every Democrat Senator running for President supported it. Now when given the chance to actually go on the record, Democrats are desperate to avoid it,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said in a statement.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) slammed Republicans over the “gotcha” vote on climate change, noting it will come the same week the Senate hopes to pass a relief package for parts of the Midwest ravaged by severe storms, which Democrats suspect may be linked to global warming.

“I wonder what the people of Nebraska and Iowa think [about why] they’ve gotten these huge floods so devastating to them? So it’s long past time for Republicans to take this issue seriously,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

A top Senate Democratic aide said party leadership plans to use Republicans’ votes against them to highlight their inaction on the issue.

“We’ll pounce on it as a flipped script and will use it to show that, in the run-up to 2020, if you want to vote for someone who stands up for climate change, you know who is standing in the way.”

In a sign that pressure in recent weeks may be building on Republicans to do more than attack Democrats on the issue, a handful of Republicans in both the Senate and the House have indicated that they might soon try to tackle the issue of climate change through their own legislation.

In the House, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) each are reportedly working on their own Green New Deal alternative. In the Senate, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told The Hill they are all looking into introducing a federal program to incentivize business investment in carbon technologies.

Alexander, who is retiring, declared on the Senate floor Monday: “I believe that human emissions are a major cause of climate change.”

He called for a five-year project on the scale of the nation’s effort to develop the first atomic bomb to “use American research and technology to put our country and our world firmly on the path toward cleaner, cheaper energy.”

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Cory Booker Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Donald Trump Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Green New Deal Joe Manchin John Barrasso Jon Tester Kirsten Gillibrand Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Matt Gaetz Merrick Garland Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Steve Scalise
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