Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Pelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill top line higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war MORE (I-Vt.) was in familiar territory Monday evening, speaking to a college auditorium of liberal-leaning students and young voters.
The 2020 presidential candidate joined progressive darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezFeehery: The confidence game Democrats face full legislative plate and rising tensions McCarthy on Dems' spending bill: 'The amount of money we spent to win World War II' MORE (D-N.Y.) to preach the benefits of the ambitious Green New Deal climate plan, at a time when climate change is rising to prominence as a top issue for Democratic voters.
“How do we take on an industry with unlimited wealth, unlimited power and unlimited resources?” Sanders said of the fossil fuel industry. “We need a political revolution.”
Speaking at Howard University, a historic African American college just a mile from the U.S. Capitol Building, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez praised the tenets of the climate action plan that in part aims to transition the U.S. economy to a 100 percent renewable energy grid by 2030 and create green jobs in the process.
Sanders, the 77-year-old son of a paint salesman who has had a lifelong career in politics, at times spoke in tandem with Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman politician who is not yet old enough to run for president but who unseated a 20-year incumbent in one of 2018's biggest upsets.
“Let me tell you what’s too much for me. What’s too much for me is politicians looking and allowing babies' blood to get poisoned in Flint, Mich., for corporate profits. What’s too much for for me is coal barons coming up to Washington, D.C., and demanding bailout after tax breaks after bailout themselves and then not even paying their own miners pensions,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd.
“This is what a corrupt political system is about … In the last decade alone the oil and gas industry has pumped more than $700 million dollars’ worth of campaign contributions into federal, state and local elections,” said Sanders. “In that same period, they spent more than $1.5 billion dollars lobbying Washington. This is what we are up against. The fossil fuel industry has been well rewarded for their campaign contributions and their lobbying.”
While Sanders's presidential campaign has not released a formal climate policy, he has staunchly backed the ideas of the Green New Deal from its infancy. Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal as a resolution in the House in February. Sanders was a co-sponsor of the Senate’s companion bill.
During his speech, Sanders dropped hints of what his own climate plan could look like, praising investments in solar and wind technology and calling for an end for all subsidies and tax breaks for oil and gas companies.
“These companies lied to the American people about the very existence of climate change and committed one of the greatest frauds in the history of our country,” Sanders said. “Just as the tobacco industry was ultimately forced to pay for the fraud they committed, the fossil fuel industry must be forced to do the same."
The lawmakers didn’t hold back Monday taking shots at other politicians, including fellow Democrats, who they view as failing to show the necessary urgency regarding climate action.
“I’m not here to tell you that all Democrats are good and all Republicans are bad and if you simply elect someone with a ‘D’ next to their name that our problems are solved,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd.
Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have each knocked the climate plans put forth in recent weeks by other 2020 hopefuls.
On Friday Ocasio-Cortez criticized a "middle ground" climate plan reportedly in the works from former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign, calling it a "dealbreaker" for the party's progressives
"This is a dealbreaker. There is no 'middle ground' w/ climate denial & delay," tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.
"Blaming 'blue collar' Americans as the main opponents to bold climate policy is gas lobbyist 101," she continued. "We’re not going to solve the climate crisis w/ this lack of leadership. Our kids’ lives are at stake."
Sanders slammed Biden’s plan as a non-starter.
“There is no ‘middle ground’ when it comes to climate policy. If we don't commit to fully transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, we will doom future generations,” Sanders tweeted. “Fighting climate change must be our priority, whether fossil fuel billionaires like it or not.”
Biden has not yet publicly released his proposal to combat climate change and aides have pushed back following a Reuters report about a "middle ground" proposal, arguing that his forthcoming plan was being mischaracterized.
Biden is currently leading many polls as the Democratic front-runner. He is seen as one of Sanders’s biggest rivals in the presidential field.
At Monday’s rally Ocasio-Cortez took aim again at Biden’s plan without calling the candidate out by name.
“What’s too much for me,” she said, “is that Congress was first notified by NASA that climate change was going to threaten my life and everyone here’s life to come, and they did nothing.”
She continued: “If the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need to have a ‘middle of the road approach’ to save our lives, that is too much for me.”
Biden was a member of Congress in 1989, the year Ocasio-Cortez was born.
Sanders turned the night’s event into a rallying cry for 2020 action.
“In my view, if younger people voted at the same percentage rate as older people do, we could transform this country regarding climate change and every other important issue,” he told the packed crowd to a standing ovation.
“We’ve got an enormous amount of work in front of us. We’ve got to educate. We’ve got to organize. And we’ve got to fight for political power.”