Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined a spirited rally supporting the Green New Deal resolution on Tuesday morning, offering a full-throated endorsement of the blueprint for dramatic climate action.
“We need to pass a Green New Deal. This should be our nation’s moonshot,” Gillibrand said. “Why not be the world leader in doing something extraordinary and showing what this country is made of?”
Pointing to recent deadly flooding in the Midwest, the New York senator and 2020 presidential contender emphasized the devastating climate impacts being felt across the country. “Climate change is real, it is harming our country, it is taking life,” she said.
Gillibrand noted that devastating wildfires in California and hurricanes in Texas, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, and elsewhere are only a small taste of the crisis to come without swift action on climate change. “For those who lost lives and their loved ones, it will never be the same,” Gillibrand continued, calling on Congress to back the Green New Deal.
The senator’s comments set the stage for a more dramatic showdown Tuesday afternoon, with the Senate scheduled to vote on the Green New Deal resolution. Gillibrand is expected to join her Democratic colleagues in voting “present” — the culmination of weeks of strategizing within the party about how best to approach the stunt vote announced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which has largely been seen as an effort to divide Democrats and strike at party unity.
The nonbinding resolution, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in February, is not legislation. Instead, it calls for dramatic action to meet 100 percent of the country’s power demand with renewable, emissions-free sources in around a decade, along with creating jobs and enshrining social justice principles like universal health care access. The resolution is backed by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, along with 91 co-sponsors in the House.
In the Republican-controlled Senate, the resolution has been slower to gain traction. As of Tuesday, the Green New Deal resolution has 12 co-sponsors in addition to Markey, with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) the most recent lawmaker to sign on.
All other 2020 Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate also support the resolution. And this is the second recent appearance by Gillibrand at a climate event — she appeared alongside youth climate protesters at a strike event two weeks ago, as did Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who has dedicated his entire presidential campaign to climate issues.
Meanwhile, more moderate Democrats, like Dianne Feinstein (CA), have expressed skepticism about the Green New Deal, while others, like ardent coal supporter Joe Manchin (WV), have voiced their opposition to the resolution.
But whether it’s the Green New Deal or another approach to climate action, addressing climate change is becoming a national conversation that even Republicans have felt the need to join. And while the Senate is set to vote on the resolution Tuesday, House lawmakers are preparing to introduce legislation this week demanding that the United States stay in the Paris climate accord and come up with a plan to meet emissions reduction targets.
The strategy for Tuesday’s vote is expected to be that all Democrats, including climate hawks like Markey and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), will vote “present” (rather than “yes” or no”) on the resolution in a move to reject McConnell’s power play.
That tactic has been used before when Republicans have forced show-votes on issues like health care. Climate activists, including Sunrise Movement members, have largely indicated that they support voting “present,” as McConnell’s vote is seen as a stunt. It remains to be seen, however, whether all Democrats will vote along party lines.
Nonetheless, Democrats are using the opportunity to strike a contrast with Republicans to show they believe tackling climate change is a priority. All 47 members of the Senate caucus signed on to a “unity” resolution acknowledging human-caused climate change and calling for action last month. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also pushed for a Senate select committee on climate change, much like the House equivalent created this year which does not have the authority to draft legislation.
Democrats emphasized that distinction during Tuesday’s rally and touted party unity on climate action.
“Republicans and President Trump may choose to be in denial about the consequences of climate change, but to ordinary people, climate change is not politics, it is life and death,” said Markey, addressing the rally.
“We have to rise to this challenge,” Gillibrand added. “Unfortunately, a lot of my Republican colleagues are treating this… like a game.”
While calls for climate action grow louder, Republicans are under increasing pressure to offer a solution of their own. While GOP officials have derided the Green New Deal as a “socialist” effort to undermine agriculture and airplanes, polling shows that the U.S. public widely accepts climate change is happening and wants action.
That hasn’t been lost on some members of the party. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined Manchin in penning a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month calling for “reasonable policies” on climate change. And retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called for his own version of strong climate action on Monday. His plan is a 10-point proposal outlining a five-year Manhattan Project-style plan pushing for breakthroughs in energy technologies.
“The Green New Deal is so far out of left field that not many are going to take it seriously,” Alexander said on the Senate floor. “So as one Republican I’m here today to propose this response to climate change.”
Proponents of the Green New Deal, however, argue that such proposals are nowhere near enough and are proof that Republicans more broadly aren’t committed to climate action.
“They’ve made attempts to block action on climate change,” said Gillibrand on Tuesday, referencing her Republican colleagues. She pointed to the Trump administration’s ongoing environmental regulations rollbacks and undermining of legislation like the Clean Power Plan, which set a carbon standard for power plants. That along with moves like withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Gillibrand argued, fly in the face of climate action.
“Just look at what’s happening all over the country and all over the world,” she said. “We need to treat climate change like the existential crisis that it is.”