A plan by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold a vote on the Green New Deal will almost surely expose divisions among Senate Democrats still wrestling with whether to back the ambitious 10-year plan to combat climate change.
McConnell announced Feb. 12 a yet-unscheduled vote designed to put pressure on Senate Democrats, many of whom remain undecided on the proposal.
House Republicans who have been lambasting the Green New Deal as far-fetched, or socialism, said a Senate vote would force backers of climate action to defend the costs of their proposed solutions.
“You know, if that’s a message that highlights the difference, that will be good,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, told Bloomberg Environment.
Many Democrats who have been active on climate change aren’t rushing to embrace the Green New Deal resolution (H.Res. 109) saying Congress remains too far from a consensus on what to do about the issue. They, along with Democrats who back the measure, said McConnell’s call for a floor vote amounts to political posturing.
Democrats have options besides voting “yes” or “no,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution in the Senate, who said members could vote “present” as a protest of McConnell’s tactics.
“We have a lot of really important things to do” to combat climate change, Murphy said. “Political stunts are not one of them.”
Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the architect of the resolution, said most of the nation backs significant investment in green infrastructure, ratcheting up U.S. reliance on clean energy, and overhauling the U.S. transportation system.
“McConnell thinks he can end all debate on the Green New Deal now and stop this freight train of momentum,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “Unfortunately for Mitch, all he’s going to do is show just how out of touch Republican politicians are with the American people.”
Other Democrats also sought to use McConnell’s move as an opportunity to counterattack Senate Republicans, whom they say have no plan of their own to deal with climate change.
The Republican approach “for addressing climate change does not exist,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a reliable supporter of climate-change action who isn’t backing the Green New Deal resolution, tweeted after the Senate leader’s announcement.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the proposal’s backers, said the Republicans’ criticism of the deal was in line with past GOP attacks on Democratic proposals.
“Now, once again, we’ve got a serious challenge which has enormous ramifications for our future, for our young people, and once again, you’ve got the people on the far right saying it’s socialism,” Wyden said. “You can almost set your clock by it. Wash, rinse and repeat.”
A Dozen Supporters
The Democrats’ plan envisions shifting away from fossil fuels and other sources of emissions that cause global warming within 10 years. It also includes nonenvironmental measures designed to address social injustices, such as economic insecurity, affordable housing, and universal health care.
The Green New Deal has roughly a dozen supporters in the Senate, all Democrats, among them several who are vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, such as Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.).
McConnell’s response would force Senate Democrats to follow through on that support, although it’s unclear what the wording of the Senate leader’s resolution will be. A McConnell aide declined to clarify how the resolution would be worded.
“It will give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how people feel about the Green New Deal,” McConnell said at his weekly news conference.
The McConnell aide told Bloomberg Environment afterward that the vote isn’t likely to be imminent, given that both chambers are focused this week on a deal to avert a shutdown beginning midnight Feb. 15. The Senate has a one-week recess next week for President’s Day.
At least one Democrat has joined Republicans in being openly skeptical of the deal: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has long supported his state’s coal industry and who famously shot a hole in the Democrats’ failed cap-and-trade bill in 2010.
“What is it? It’s a dream,” said Manchin of the green deal.
Manchin, the new ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a position he won over the objections of environmental groups who tried to sink the promotion given his record opposing climate action.
He has tried to balance his dismissal of the Green New Deal while saying that he supports action on climate change.
“We all agree that the climate is changing and we all agree we have to do something,” he told reporters after McConnell’s announcement.
Republicans All for Vote
Top Senate Republicans rallied around the idea of essentially subjecting the Democrats’ own Green New Deal to a vote in the Senate.
“It’s something obviously they’ve made a big priority in terms of, you know, it being something they want to see accomplished,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, told reporters.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Democrats should have to defend their climate ideas.
“It’s so interesting to watch this very hard left turn the Democratic Party has taken,” he told reporters.
Thune sidestepped a question though on what Republicans might offer on their own to address climate change, saying Congress has “made some good headway in the past years” in tackling U.S. emissions.
“I always believed it was better to use in the Senate a carrot approach rather than a stick approach,” he said.
—With assistance from Tiffany Stecker.
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(Adds comments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in eighth and ninth paragraphs. )
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