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The Democrats Are Kinda Sorta Thinking About Hosting a Climate Debate

DNC officials put two proposals on the table to bring the issue to the primary debate stage.

by Alex Lubben
Jul 2 2019, 5:30pm

Climate activists — and more than a dozen Democratic presidential candidates — have been calling on the Democratic National Committee to host a debate focused solely on climate change. And for months, the top of the Democratic Party has essentially said “nope.”

That might be changing.

During a meeting of the DNC’s executive committee in Pittsburgh on Saturday, party officials introduced two proposals that would put climate change in the national spotlight during the Democratic primary. The party will make a decision on the proposals during their next meeting, in August in San Francisco, a DNC official told VICE News. It would be the first single-issue presidential debate in recent memory.

Asked what they considered to be the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. during the first round of debates, several candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke, said climate change. Still, the heating climate only got 15 minutes of discussion time over the course of the first two nights of debates among the 20 candidates who qualified.

There are two proposals on the table, a DNC official said: One is for a debate among the candidates on climate, introduced by Christine Pelosi and other members of the DNC; the second, put forward by South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson, is a forum rather than a debate, where candidates will give speeches presenting their platforms without debating their merits.

But the proposals don’t guarantee that the debate will move forward. Where the resolution stands now, it might not even go to a vote. All it guarantees is the resolutions committee will have to consider whether to put those resolutions to a vote before the party’s 447-member full voting body.

Despite those calls, DNC chief Tom Perez told activists who confronted him last week that the party would not host a climate debate. “We don't have enough debates to do that,” he told the Sunrise Movement, which supports a debate rather than a forum.

But to the activists who’ve been pushing for a full debate on the issue, the DNC’s consideration feels like a step forward. “It shows the pressure’s working,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, the climate activist group that has led the calls for a climate debate. “Last week’s debate made it crystal clear why we need a climate debate. A few questions are completely insufficient to discuss the greatest existential threat we face as a species.”

The Sunrise Movement has led the charge for the climate debate, but they’re not alone. Other environmental groups have joined the push, notably including 314 Action, which is putting $100,000 toward hosting a climate debate and calling on other groups to co-host, according to BuzzFeed News.

Numerous candidates have also lined up behind participating in a climate debate. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who’s staked his candidacy on addressing the climate crisis, was the first in the field to call for one, but the idea has since gained traction. Now, over a dozen candidates endorse the idea, including Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Recent polling has found that climate change is the issue that Democratic voters care the most about.

Between now and August’s vote, Sunrise will keep turning up the pressure on the DNC. “Ahead of this vote, we’re going to be pressuring party officials all around the country to join the calls for a climate debate ahead of this vote,” O’Hanlon said.

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Miami, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., listens. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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