Energy & Environment

Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks

Stefani Reynolds

Democrats are sensing political gains from the Green New Deal heading into Election Day, even as Republicans deride the progressive proposal and some Democratic candidates slink away from it.

The fight over the proposal — what’s in it and who supports it — has played out on the debate stage over the past month, with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden showing he’s as eager to cast his climate plan as his own as President Trump is to tie the Green New Deal and Biden to socialism.

The battle underscores how less than two years after it was introduced in Congress, few voters fully understand what is and isn’t in the 14-page resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

The resolution lacks any legislative language to enact its proposals, let alone ban meat or air travel as Republicans have suggested, but some Democratic congressional candidates have nonetheless distanced themselves from it as Republicans land some blows with their attacks.

But where Democrats sense success is in energizing voters around a massive investment in clean energy — a topic that unites the party and offers a pathway to growth amid an economic downturn.

“The resolution had the potential to divide the party, and indeed it was co-sponsored by the most liberal members and not by moderates for the most part, but what changed is the Trump COVID economic crisis,” said Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute and ex-adviser to former President Clinton.

“That changed the politics so that Joe Biden could get behind a $2 trillion clean energy infrastructure package, and that was music to the ears of progressives but also helped Biden and the Democrats seem responsive to the economic crisis and in particular the jobs crisis,” Bledsoe added.

Recent polling has found voters are generally supportive of the Green New Deal, either when presented with a description of the plan or when asked about it by name.

A Yale University poll last week found that 64 percent of voters expressed support for the Green New Deal.

That figure is in line with the share of voters who say they support Biden’s climate plan, which he has stressed won’t transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels as quickly as Green New Deal backers would prefer.

“My deal is the crucial framework, not the New Green Deal,” Biden said during a town hall earlier this month. “The New Green Deal calls for the elimination of all nonrenewable energy by 2030 — you can’t get there. You’re going to need to be able to transition.”

The distancing demonstrated by Biden has been seen elsewhere down the ballot, primarily where Democrats are in tough races in swing districts.

Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), a first-term congressman whose initial campaign centered on environmental impacts on the South Carolina coast, has repeatedly said he does not support the Green New Deal.

In Arizona, former astronaut Mark Kelly (D) has struck a similar tone in his race to unseat Sen. Martha McSally (R).

“Since the Green New Deal was authored, I’ve been against it,” Kelly has said.

But Democrats and Republicans agree on one race where campaigning in favor of the Green New Deal has proven successful.

“The only Democrat who has benefited from the Green New Deal was Sen. Markey, and that was in a Democratic primary,” said Alex Flint, executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a Republican group working to advance climate policy.

Markey told The Hill that the proposal has helped Democrats on several fronts.

“The Green New Deal has transformed the national discussion around the climate crisis. It has galvanized a movement of young, diverse activists who have made climate change an electoral powerhouse, and climate action a winning issue. We are seeing progressive candidates running, and winning, on their support for a Green New Deal,” Markey said in a statement.

“On Election Day, this movement of young climate activists will be the difference for Joe Biden and candidates up and down the ballot,” he added.

Republican strategists, however, insist it’s “a stone-cold winner for Republicans.”

“What they screwed up on is it’s not a serious proposal in that it’s a liberal wish list and they’ve introduced it and become defined by it. It’s not something that could even be attractive to moderate Democrats,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist.

Flint said Democrats erred in their messaging and by including polarizing issues like health care and wages without fully selling their environmental vision.

“The Green New Deal advocates never defined what the Green New Deal was and allowed others to assign it the worst attributes they could probably imagine,” he said, something that will turn off the moderate voters he says are needed to win elections.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which has done extensive polling on the Green New Deal, countered that GOP messaging isn’t as effective as they might think — primarily because it largely only resonates with Republicans.

Polling six months after the resolution was introduced found support dropped among “not all Republicans, but Republicans that watch Fox News whose views changed because [Fox News has] demonized it as socialism and ‘They want to take away your hamburgers’ and other claims,” Leiserowitz said.

But the world has shifted since the Green New Deal was introduced in 2019, with climate change increasingly visible and the spread of the coronavirus and its devastating effect on the economy.

“Support for government action has increased,” Leiserowitz said, adding that “the narrative Republicans have been promoting since the Reagan era … is increasingly out of tune with where the public is now because, faced with massive crises, we realize we can’t solve [them] through individual action.”

Democrats see the Green New Deal as energizing a class of younger, more progressive voters that will be key for electoral victory.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which has released its own climate plan, credited the Green New Deal with rallying congressional Democrats around the need for urgency in a “place of great inertia.”

“I think it’s been very successful in framing solving the climate crisis as an opportunity and one that’s based on fairness and equity,” she told The Hill.

“There are alternative narratives in the world right now, but I think overall the Green New Deal is a rallying cry for action, and that’s why I think the GOP minimizes it at their peril,” she said.

Bledsoe said Biden has played the issue in exactly the right manner, embracing the economic vision and clean energy focus of the Green New Deal that lets progressives feel that they’re being heard, while sidestepping bans on fossil fuels or extraneous social issues included in the proposal that might not be palatable in some districts.

“The way Biden has handled the issue has allowed it to be a net benefit,” Bledsoe said.

“Because it did mobilize the left and the young people around the climate change issue in a way other proposals had not done before, and then Democrats are smart people — they can take the parts of it they like and leave the parts they don’t like,” he added.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Donald Trump Ed Markey Joe Biden Joe Cunningham Kathy Castor Martha McSally
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