WASHINGTON — The day after the Green New Deal went down in a "stunt" Senate vote, Democratic leaders started changing the subject to climate initiatives more palatable to Middle America and less likely for Republicans to whack at.
On Wednesday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the formation of the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, intended to form consensus on energy and environment policy. The same day, over in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the Climate Action Now Act, which would keep the U.S. in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
After her press conference — where the Green New Deal’s biggest champion, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), was noticeably absent — Pelosi refused to directly answer questions from reporters over whether her new bill is more in line with party position than the Green New Deal.
“This is a statement just supporting the Paris agreement. We have miles to go in terms of legislation,” said Pelosi, flanked by her large security detail and a flock of aides.
The political move, however, is clear: Democratic leaders do not want the party’s climate policy to be entirely defined by the Green New Deal, which Republicans are using as a wedge issue to help bolster their chances in 2020. Dems also don’t want the policy, most closely associated with lightning-rod Ocasio-Cortez, to hurt the electoral chances of conservative Democrats elected in suburban, swing districts.
On Tuesday Republicans mocked the Green New Deal — a set of principles that would put the nation on a 100 percent-renewable-energy diet — by putting it up for a Senate vote in order to split Democrats and get as many on the record as possibly supporting the measure. Democrats mostly stuck together: 43 voted “present,” and four moderates crossed the aisle and voted with the GOP.
And Republican leaders say this won’t be the last time moderate Democrats are forced to answer for the proposal.
“I don’t think it’s going away for them,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate Majority Whip, told VICE News outside the Capitol while waiting with his security detail for his black SUV to pick him up. “It’s something that they’re going to have to own, and they’re not going to like that.”
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez says proponents of the Green New Deal aren’t afraid of having this high-profile fight for the public to see.
“There is a lot of misinformation around it, and that’s fine because that’s politics”
“There is a lot of misinformation around it, and that’s fine, because that’s politics,” the freshman progressive told VICE News as she walked back to her office after a vote. “They do the same thing with any policy that wants to help and ambitiously move the needle [and] improve the lives of working Americans, so it’s just part of the game.”
The Green New Deal is sponsored by only 13 Senate Democrats, including every presidential candidate in that chamber, so McConnell’s political ploy bombed because he failed to get the rest of the party to truly weigh the merits of the measure. Still, the four who opposed it don’t mince words on the subject.
“I agree with proponents of the Green New Deal that we need decisive action and ambitious goals to protect our planet for future generations,” Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement Tuesday. “But at the same time, I believe that the best way to fully address this challenge is to set realistic goals.”
Demagoguing the Green New Deal
Other senior Democrats continue to pour cold water on the aspirational aspects of the Green New Deal, even as they voted “present” on what amounted to a show vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“My view of climate change legislation is that it should stick with climate change, and not involve education and guaranteed jobs and paid-for health care,” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters at the Capitol ahead of the vote.
Pelosi already has her Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t appointed to it, which raised eyebrows across Capitol Hill. But it does include freshman Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), who supports the Green New Deal. He denies this new bill is intended to distract from the GOP assault on that more ambitious climate plan. He says the party plans to show it’s serious about addressing climate change, and there’s no silver bullet, including the new legislation.
“I don’t think this is intended to solve the climate crisis. What this is intended to do is remind the world that we care about climate change, we care about taking bold and aggressive steps, as the Paris Climate Accord laid out,” Levin told VICE News. “This is a bill that, I think, will send a clear signal that this president doesn’t speak for the American people when he decided to withdraw [the U.S. from the accord].”
Still, for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and other proponents of the Green New Deal, while they may support some proposals that nibble around the edges of climate change, they’re vowing to keep pushing party leaders to get behind more drastic climate proposals – even in the face of the threats from GOP leaders to keep hammering away at the Democratic Party over such a sweeping re-envisioning of the nation’s energy sector.
“Our lives are under threat,” Ocasio-Cortez told VICE News. “We’re either going to sit on our thumbs and think that a carbon tax is going to fix all of the problems, or we’re going to acknowledge that that could be part of the solution, but the solution overall needs to be larger.”
Cover image: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks to journalists after the Democratic House caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Tuesday March 26, 2019. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)