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 InsleeOvernight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate 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 YangHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Saagar Enjeti: No question, Andrew Yang won Ohio debate Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart 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 SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' 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 DelaneyWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field The Hill's 12:30 Report: Hunter Biden speaks out amid Ukraine controversy 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the October showdown 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 ButtigiegButtigieg tweeted support for 'Medicare for All' in 2018 Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate 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 Booker2020 Democrats recognize Pronouns Day Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump seeks distance from Syria crisis 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 WilliamsonWilliamson slams DNC, Tuesday's debate: 'This would all be funny if it weren't so dangerous' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Hunter Biden speaks out amid Ukraine controversy 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the October showdown 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.