Senate Democrats look for unity on eve of Green New Deal vote

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Monday, March 25, 2019


Charles E. Schumer. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Faced with the choice of voting up or down on their Green New Deal, Democrats look like they’re going to rally around a third option.

Originally presented as a nonbinding resolution, the ambitious outline for addressing climate change has galvanized Washington. A half-dozen presidential candidates have co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution introduced in February to cement their pro-environment bona fides. And almost immediately, numerous Republicans have spoken against what they see as itsenormous costs.

Now with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scheduling a vote on the resolution next week to put senators on the record, Democrats are trying to avoid an intraparty fight. According to two Democratic aides, top Senate Democrats are weighing a strategy of voting “present” on what climate activists and Senate Democrats are dubbing a “sham” vote.

Even the lead Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), has indicated he will vote present after accusing McConnell of trying to “short-circuit the process.”

“Democrats will not allow Leader McConnell and Republicans to make a mockery of the debate in the Senate on climate change,” Markey said in a statement. “This vote is a sham and little more than a political ploy to protect vulnerable Republicans from having to defend their climate science denial.”

And the Sunrise Movement — the activist group that protested in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office and kick-started discussions in Washington of a Green New Deal to begin with — is not pressuring Senate Democrats to vote yes.

“He has no intention of taking action on climate change to ensure our generation has a livable future,” Sunrise Movement spokesman Stephen O’Hanlon wrote by email. “The only reason he is calling for this vote is to score some points for the oil and gas executives who bankroll his campaigns. This vote is a sham and Senators are planning to treat it as such.”

Republicans have been quick to use the Green New Deal as a cudgel against Democrats. The proposal calls for rapidly reducing climate-warming emissions over the next decade from virtually all sectors of the U.S. economy while providing every American with a high-quality job.

In turn, Democrats — even those who did not sponsor the Green New Deal — want to show as much unity as possible to spare colleagues the embarrassment of defeat. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is offering his own resolutions in response to McConnell to establish a select panel on climate change and to affirm that man-made climate change needs to be addressed by Congress. The latter resolution was co-sponsored by all 47 senators in the Democratic caucus.

Yet while the decision to vote against your own proposal may seem odd, it is not unprecedented. Democrats staked out a “present” strategy similar to one they pursued in 2017 when McConnell brought a Medicare-for-all proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) up for a vote.

Next week’s likely vote still puts every senator seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president in the tough position of deciding whether to reaffirm their support for it in a floor vote or break ranks with their leadership. None of the offices of six Senate candidates — Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) — responded to a request for comment.