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 InsleeOur government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far 2019's political winners and losers — on both sides of the aisle MORE, who centered his campaign on addressing climate change, dropped out of the race.

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 YangDNC announces new criteria for New Hampshire debate Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire Panel: Obama breaks Andrew Yang's heart 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 SandersSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders over handling of feud with Warren On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans 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 DelaneyElizabeth Warren moves 'bigly' to out-trump Trump DNC goof: Bloomberg should be on debate stage Bloomberg decides to skip Nevada caucuses 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 ButtigiegSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial Hill.TV's Krystal Ball on Sanders-Warren feud: 'Don't play to the pundits, play to voters' Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg 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 BookerDNC announces new criteria for New Hampshire debate The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial 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 WilliamsonMarianne Williamson drops out of 2020 race Bill Press: Don't forget about Amy 2020 Democrats: Iran airstrike 'reckless,' 'could cost countless lives' 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.