Inslee ends climate-centered White House run

Source: By Timothy Cama, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, August 23, 2019

Jay Inslee withdrew from the 2020 Democratic presidential race yesterday, ending the first major climate change-centered candidacy for the White House.

The progressive Washington governor and former congressman, who frequently stated his belief on the campaign trail that it’s necessary to make climate “job one” or “it won’t get done,” announced his decision in a live interview on MSNBC’s late-night “The Rachel Maddow Show,” a major venue for liberal candidates in the 2020 election cycle.

“It’s become clear that I’m not going to be carrying the ball, I’m not going to be the president, so I’m withdrawing tonight from the race,” Inslee said.

He used the appearance to take credit for the prioritized role that climate has played in the race to run against President Trump next year. Numerous candidates have come out with aggressive climate policy plans and multiple news outlets are planning forums on the issue.

“I don’t think there’s any question about that, that we’ve had real success in the effort,” he said of his drive to make climate front and center.

“I think we started a kind of an arms race of candidates to see who can raise their ambition level, and that’s helped them become more ambitious. I think that we’ve now advanced the dialogue to have debates,” he said. “So we clearly have raised the profile on this.”

Inslee’s decision came slightly more than a week before the deadline to qualify for the September Democratic primary debate. He reached the required 130,000 donors days ago but was a far cry from hitting 2% in four major polls in the last two months.

Exclusion from the debates would have been a major blow to his campaign. While the October debate had the same qualifications, future ones are expected to have higher thresholds.

Inslee has been an outspoken advocate for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy since his first stint in Congress in the early 1990s. He ran, in part, on his decades of experience on the issue and some recent policy victories in Washington.

Inslee spoke about climate at nearly every opportunity. Instead of having one climate plan, he released his proposal in six parts, totaling more than 200 pages. The final piece, released just yesterday, centered on agriculture and rural communities (Greenwire, Aug. 21).

He also took frequent shots at other candidates over their climate plans. In particular, he targeted former Vice President Joe Biden at a July debate over what he saw as shortfalls in Biden’s plan, including that it did not seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough.

“These deadlines are set by science,” Inslee said of the key dates in his climate policies.

“Mr. Vice President,” he continued, “your argument is not with me; it’s with science. And unfortunately, your plan is just too late.”

Inslee attracted some progressive accolades outside of the climate world with frequent mentions of his record on issues like abortion rights and fighting Trump’s immigration policies.

But he didn’t catch on among the public in a big way, having never exceeded 1% in a major poll. And his ability to promote his climate message was curtailed by factors including the Democratic National Committee’s refusal thus far to hold an official debate focused on climate change.

Inslee, 68, is now the fourth Democrat to end his 2020 presidential bid, after former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Now that he’s out of the election, Inslee could choose to run for a third term as Washington’s governor, a possibility in which he’s expressed interest.

Inslee declined on Maddow’s show to endorse another presidential candidate, saying he would support whomever the Democratic Party chooses.

“I know these candidates. Every single one of them is 100% better than the current occupant [of the White House]. No question about that,” he told Maddow. “We’re going to beat Donald Trump and beat the climate crisis.”

Environmental groups and other Democratic candidates thanked Inslee for his run after the announcement.

“Gov. Inslee set an incredibly high bar when he launched his presidential campaign with a central focus on climate action and he has continued to demonstrate that leadership with strong proposals for climate action right up to earlier today,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement, pledging to help Inslee if he runs for a third term as governor.

“We have no doubt that Gov. Inslee has played a crucial role in elevating the climate crisis to the top of the agenda within this primary, which we are confident will remain the case for the rest of the primary.”

Billionaire activist and presidential contender Tom Steyer tweeted that Inslee “is a visionary leader and a friend. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his wisdom, his commitment, and his basic goodness.”

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another candidate, thanked Inslee on Twitter “for advancing the conversation about the urgent threat of climate change — our country is better for it. I know you will continue to be a powerful voice and move the needle on this issue.”