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Republican member of House climate caucus wants stricter membership rules

Florida congressman supports review of voting for prospective members of climate caucus.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) has expressed interest in serving as the co-leader of the House Climate Solutions Caucus. CREDIT: EWTN/screenshot
Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) has expressed interest in serving as the co-leader of the House Climate Solutions Caucus. CREDIT: EWTN/screenshot

The House climate caucus will not be disbanding in the wake of the midterm elections, according to a caucus representative, despite the bipartisan group losing almost half of its Republican members.

The climate caucus, however, could have a new look and new rules when it reconvenes in early 2019.

As a smaller, tight-knit group, the House Climate Solutions Caucus could be more successful in developing climate legislation, according to Flannery Winchester, communications coordinator for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a grassroots environmental group that helped organize the House climate caucus in early 2016.

Many Republicans who joined the caucus were hoping their membership in the group would help their reelection chances. As it turned out, many of these GOP caucus members lost reelection.

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At the start of the new Congress in January 2019, the number of Republican members of the climate caucus will decrease from 45 to 24 members. A total of 13 of Republican members of the climate caucus lost their reelection bids, including Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), the group’s co-founder. Several other Republicans retired from Congress.

The midterm elections “were not a referendum” on voters’ views on climate action, Winchester emphasized in an interview with ThinkProgress. Other factors, such as President Donald Trump’s extreme unpopularity in certain congressional districts, were the reason for the defeat of many Republicans members of the group. Their membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus, she said, played no role in their unsuccessful reelection bids.

On the other hand, membership in the caucus may have helped push Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) — who was viewed as vulnerable heading into the midterms — to victory in Pennsylvania’s 1st district in Philadelphia’s northern suburbs, according to Winchester. Along with his membership in the climate caucus, the one-term Fitzpatrick also boasts a 71 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters.

Right now, the Climate Solutions Caucus requires an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. In early 2017, the caucus entered a growth spurt. By the time of the midterms, the caucus had 90 members, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

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But now after a roughly 40 percent drop in the number of Republican members, some are questioning how the caucus should move forward.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), one of the group’s Republican members who easily won reelection, wants the caucus to review its membership policy. As it stands now, the caucus does not require an incoming member to have a pro-climate voting record.

With Curbelo’s defeat, Rooney — the group’s newest Republican — is interested in co-leading the caucus with Rep. Ted Deutch (FL), the group’s Democratic co-founder.

Rooney has expressed support for looking at a lawmaker’s voting record before allowing them to join the caucus. Members of a climate-centric congressional caucus should be required to have made a certain number of pro-environment votes, Rooney told the Washington Examiner last week.

“It is important that the caucus not be seen as an ‘in name only’ group, but actually works towards effective bipartisan solutions,” Rooney said Wednesday in an email to ThinkProgress.

Rooney, however, would not support tampering with the Noah’s Ark membership format of the caucus. The current requirement that a Republican and Democrat must be paired together when joining “seems to work well,” he said in the email.

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By requiring a certain number of pro-climate votes by prospective members, the caucus could become a stronger force in coming up with solutions to the climate crisis. “I want to make sure the caucus has the kind of teeth that people expect it to have,” Rooney said in the interview with the Examiner.

Rooney, who represents a distinctly conservative district in southwestern Florida, favors a permanent moratorium on drilling off Florida’s coastlines. “To safeguard our future, proactive planning is necessary to mitigate effects of rising sea levels and increased intensity of flooding,” Rooney said in a statement in September upon joining the caucus. “I look forward to working with a bipartisan group of my colleagues on solving the problems of sea-level rise.”

In the lead up to, and after the midterm elections, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) has said she plans to ask House Democrats to reconstitute the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which operated from 2007 up until 2011.

On Wednesday, however, Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), co-chairs of the Safe Climate Caucus, wrote a letter to Pelosi informing her that they believe existing House committees are adequate to promote climate change policies in the next Congress.

“However, should you decide to create a select committee on climate change in the 116th Congress, we stand ready to work with you,” Beyer and Lowenthal wrote in their letter.

In his email to ThinkProgress, Rooney said he favors discussions with any group in Congress that is working to address climate change.

“Having more voices heard on such critical issues as sea level rise and offshore drilling is valuable and improves the opportunity for bipartisan solutions,” he said. “As a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, I look forward to discussions with all that are willing to have them.”

More than 600 volunteers with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby were in Washington this week to lobby members of Congress on fighting climate change through a carbon fee and dividend, the group’s preferred climate solution.

On the same day, hundreds of members of the Sunrise Movement converged on Pelosi’s office to urge her to support the idea of a Green New Deal — a national mobilization to transition the U.S. economy away from of fossil fuels and toward renewable energy while creating jobs and building new infrastructure. They said simply re-instating a House committee was not enough.

Dozens of activists were arrested as part of effort to push Pelosi and other Democratic leaders toward strong climate action regardless of potential Republican opposition.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby views its members’ work as complementary to the actions of the Sunrise Movement and other climate activists. “We are all alarmed about the rapid pace of climate change,” Winchester said. “Just because we’re working in a bipartisan fashion doesn’t mean we’re not alarmed.”