Climate change politics burn hot after Green New Deal vote

Suddenly the climate is hot on Capitol Hill.

A day after the Senate blocked consideration of the Green New Deal, lawmakers from both parties were still talking about climate change. House Democrats pushed a plan to keep the U.S. in a global climate agreement, while Senate Democrats formed a special climate committee to match one in the House.

Republicans, meanwhile, continued to mock the Green New Deal as a step toward socialism and pushed for a House vote similar to the one in the Senate. The GOP launched a House Energy Action Team, or HEAT, to push an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy and counteract what they called the "radical" and economically devastating Green New Deal.

"Now everyone's talking about climate change," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said at one of three separate news conferences Wednesday on the issue.

While no Democrats supported the Green New Deal in a Senate test vote forced by Republicans Tuesday, the sheer volume of discussion made clear the plan has struck a nerve as both parties seek to use it to their advantage in the 2020 elections.

"Democrats are on offense" about climate change, Schumer said as he announced a Democrat-only committee on climate. "We're feeling really good about where we're moving."

Results in the Senate showed otherwise, Republicans said.

Senators voted 57-0 against a procedural motion to take up the nonbinding resolution, which calls for the U.S. to shift away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

Again and again, GOP lawmakers noted that no Democrat supported the motion, even as all 53 Republicans opposed it. Three Democrats — Doug Jones of Alabama, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — joined Republicans to oppose the plan, as did independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats.

Instead, 43 Democrats— including Schumer and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, the bill's lead sponsor — voted "present."

Democrats called the vote scheduled by GOP leaders a "sham" and said it carried its own political risk by mocking an issue — climate change — that a growing number of Americans care deeply about.

"All across the country, people young and old are mobilized, organized and galvanized to take action now on climate change," Markey said.

Republicans dismissed the plan as a government takeover of the economy that could bankrupt the nation with an unrealistic goal of obtaining net-zero carbon emissions within 10 years.

"We are not going to be successful at reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and lowering our carbon emissions through virtue signaling," said Sen Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "And that is all the Green New Deal boils down to: lofty goals and aspirations with no concrete plan or concern as to feasibility."

Voters "see through this Republican disgrace here in our Capitol," Markey countered. "They know that Democrats are the party of climate action, and Republicans are the party of climate denial."

But Republicans said Democrats were denying them a vote on the Green New Deal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has rejected calls to schedule a vote on the plan and has given no timetable when or if it will reach the House floor.

"Even Speaker Pelosi doesn't want a vote" on the Green New Deal, "because she herself recognizes it's too radical," said Georgia Rep. Jody Hice, a member of the GOP energy team who has vowed to force a floor vote on the climate plan. Hice dared freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and other Green New Deal supporters to show "political courage" and agree to a recorded vote.

"When a leftist bill is too radical even for Barack Obama, you know it must be bad policy," said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who created the GOP energy team. Scalise was referring to comments by former President Barack Obama at a meeting with freshman Democrats this week, where he warned them to think about how their "bold" ideas will work and how they will be paid for.

Schumer and other Democrats insisted they were winning, citing polls showing that a clear majority of Americans support action on climate change. A December NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe action is needed to combat climate change, and a record 45 percent say the problem is serious enough to demand immediate action.

A growing number of Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now say they believe climate change is real and that humans play a role in it.

Republicans don't agree with Democrats on possible solutions, a fact Schumer cited in forming the Democratic climate panel, which will be led by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. "We won't wait for Republicans to highlight this issue, with the urgency it requires," Schumer said.

In the House, Pelosi and other Democrats introduced a bill to ensure the U.S. honors its commitments under the landmark Paris climate agreement, which President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2017.

"Despite what President Trump has said, America cannot and will not retreat" on climate change, said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chairwoman of a House select committee on climate.

The bill "is just the start" of action needed on climate, Castor said, but unlike the Green New Deal, it has the potential to win Republican support. "There are many ideas, including this one, that are consistent with the urgency and ambition that the Green New Deal underscores," she said.