Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The Democrats voted not to host a debate focused entirely on the climate crisis — a conversation that all of the leading presidential candidates support.
Democratic National Committee officials voted down the resolution that would’ve called for an official climate debate by a margin of 17 to 8 at a party meeting in San Francisco Thursday. If the DNC doesn’t host a climate debate, the candidates could opt to participate in a non-DNC sanctioned debate. But by participating, they could be sanctioned by the DNC, which means being potentially barred from any further DNC-sponsored debates.
Supporters of a DNC-sponsored climate debate aren’t giving up on the idea just yet though: The DNC member who brought forward the resolution, Tina Podlodowski, is vowing to bring the it up again before the Democrats’ 447-member voting body on Saturday.
“It’s a bit of a Hail Mary pass. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try it,” Podlodowski told VICE News. “What happened today is that we disrespected and disappointed an entire generation of voters.”
DNC chief Tom Perez opposed the climate debate and doesn’t think it benefits the Democrats to hold any single-issue debates.
Joe Biden’s press secretary, Symone Sanders also doesn’t support a climate debate — even though the former vice president and presidential candidate has said that he supports one . Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, also support the idea.
“Last week in VA, I got a note asking if I support a climate debate,” Warren tweeted in May. “Yes! We need to do everything we can to save our planet.”
And Democratic voters want to talk about climate. Three quarters of respondents to a June CNN poll said that they wouldn’t vote for a candidate who didn’t recognize climate change as humanity’s greatest existential threat.
The DNC did, however, pass a separate resolution Thursday that encourages candidates to participate in a multi-candidate forum — and it’s not clear how that’s any different from a debate. But the Democrats didn’t make clear that the candidates wouldn’t be penalized for participating in such a forum, as their bylaws lay out.
Climate change has already gotten more air time during the Democratic primary debates than it did during all of 2016, but climate advocates still aren’t satisfied. With the Green New Deal in the national spotlight, forest fires currently consuming the Amazon, and July 2019 officially the hottest month on record, time is ticking on tackling the climate crisis.
The Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate activist group that’s been instrumental in calling for a climate debate and a Green New Deal, expects a full-blown fight at Saturday’s DNC meeting. They’re planning protests to continue to push for a climate debate. A group of them broke out in a rendition of an old labor song, “Which Side Are You On?”, after the Democrats voted down the resolution.
“There’s one thing we can do after Saturday,” Podlodowski said. “There’s the candidates themselves.”
She and other advocates plan to ask the 2020 field directly if they’re willing to participate in a climate debate, whether the DNC supports it or not.
Cover image: Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez speaks before the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)