2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum

2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum
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Democratic presidential hopefuls were eager to showcase their environmental bonafides in front of young voters at MSNBC’s two-day climate forum this week as protesters across the globe demand action on climate change.

The hourlong sessions gave candidates a chance to try and fill the void left since Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeFight against flavored e-cigarettes goes local Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Bullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate MORE, who centered his campaign on addressing climate change, dropped out of the race.

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Hosts Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi asked most of the candidates how they would prioritize climate change if they occupied the Oval Office given they have spent months focusing their campaign on a broader set of issues.

“Climate change is at the top of that list. It’s the greatest existential threat to our way of life and our species. You have to have it as threat 1A,” said former tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangYang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations Biden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events MORE

Yang also sought to link his better known position on tackling the effect of job automation with climate change.

“The reason why I think I’m more known for being more concerned about automation of jobs and artificial intelligence is that they are very much tied together,” Yang said. “To me 1A is climate change and 1B is economic inequities.”

Some environmental groups have praised Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE's (I-Vt.) position for being the most aggressive and robust, though his response also sought to bring attention to the decades he’s spent talking about income inequality and human rights.

“Obviously, there's nothing more important than saving the planet. But we do need to make sure that every American has healthcare as a human right. We need to make sure that you guys can go to college without coming out deeply in debt,” Sanders said. “Call me old fashioned, call me optimistic, but I think government can do both at the same time.” 

Most candidates were eager to show how seriously they take climate change.

“Lots of things are actually getting better every single day, except for one that’s getting so much worse, and it's this one. So it’s got to be a top priority. Again what’s our job? To leave the world better than we found it,” said former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyDelaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates 2020 Democrats thank Harris for friendship, candidacy after senator drops out MORE (D-Md.).

Former Housing and Urban Development head Julián Castro explained how he would prioritize climate change by saying he, like other candidates, would recommit the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord, and from there would set out to work with Congress to pass the Green New Deal.   

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Chicago Mayor Lightfoot to Buttigieg: 'Break that NDA' to have 'moral authority' against Trump Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE referred to his youth to explain his drive for addressing the topic.

“Well, I hope to be around in 2050,” the 38-year-old said. “So to me this is not an abstract ‘my grandkids’ kind of thing.”

“That means I will be, for one thing, held accountable. And I think my generation will be held accountable because it will be on our watch that this thing played out.”

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash MORE (D-N.J.) described climate change as being at the nexus of many issues.

“Everything we do must be done through the lens of the climate crisis,” he said.

Self-help author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonDemocrats take in lobbying industry cash despite pledges Chicago suburb to use recreational marijuana sales tax to fund reparations program: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses 'fictional' GOP claims of Ukraine meddling MORE also said climate change would get high billing in her administration.

“It would have to get top priority. We’d get no choice,” she said. “But at the same time climate change is connected to so many other issues and the president has to pull the whole picture but you cannot in any way peripheralize the issue of climate change.” 

Miranda Green contributed reporting.