As much of the Midwest remains underwater and temperatures soared well above the monthly average in Alaska, senators in Washington, D.C., engaged in a political power play.
The Senate voted Tuesday against invoking cloture in order to proceed to a vote on the Green New Deal resolution, a nonbinding document that lays out aspirational goals for sweeping climate action. With zero senators voting in favor, 57 senators voted against the motion, and 43 voted present.
The vote was called by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in what many saw as an attempt to expose Democrats’ differing views on climate action and paint those supporting the ambitious climate resolution as anti-American “socialists.”
While most Democrats elected to vote “present,” thereby not engaging in McConnell’s stunt, three Democratic senators joined with Republicans in voting “no” on the resolution: Doug Jones (D-AL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
And according to one analysis, senators who voted against the resolution have taken 11 times more money from the fossil fuel industry than those who voted “present.”
While the Green New Deal is a resolution, not a proposed piece of legislation, Republicans pushed Tuesday’s vote without any legislation or counter-proposal of their own. Instead, they chose to make a political game out of one of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change.
McConnell has “made a mockery of the legislative process,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said ahead of the vote, calling the move “a political act, a political stunt.”
“Everyone knows it’s a stunt,” Schumer continued. “[McConnell] puts something on the floor and then votes no, what’s the point of that?”
Actual pieces of legislation haven’t been given the same prominence. During the longest federal government shutdown in history earlier this year, McConnell repeatedly refused to allow a vote on bills to reopen the government because he believed President Donald Trump wouldn’t sign them and it would thus be a waste of time, calling such attempts “show votes.” Even more recently, McConnell refused to allow a vote on H.R. 1, a sweeping election reform bill that passed the House, saying it would “never become law.”
And in this instance, McConnell called a vote on the Green New Deal resolution without offering any alternative proposal from the majority party. Debate around the Green New Deal, and mounting pressure from younger generations demanding serious climate action, has prompted many Republicans to talk about climate change, with some even acknowledging the party needs its own vision to tackle the issue. But rather than do any of that, McConnell proceeded with his empty exercise.
“For five years, the majority leader hasn’t brought one bill to the floor [on climate change],” Schumer said. He did, however, give credit to McConnell for one thing: “With this exercise they’ve also elevated the issue in a way I’m sure they’ve never intended, and for that I want to thank them.”
Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge climate change as a serious threat was emphasized by Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) as well. “We’ve got a big wall down the middle of this chamber — on that side, climate denial and on this side, belief we should do something,” he said.
But instead of supporting climate action, he said, the “Senate leader has decided to do a political move… not to solve the problem but to have something to talk about in the next campaign.”
Meanwhile, other Republicans used the opportunity to make a mockery of the climate crisis. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), for instance, used cartoons of dinosaurs and sea horses and references to “Sharknado” to argue against the resolution.
And Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) showed up to the vote wearing a yellow tie dotted with oil derricks and overflowing rigs.
— geof koss (@geofkoss) March 26, 2019
Rather than shark-filled tornadoes, however, communities across the country are feeling the impacts of more intense storms, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires. And while debate was taking place on the Senate floor, 2020 presidential hopeful Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) called for McConnell and Republican leaders to “hold real hearings on climate change, not sham votes.”
“Senate Republicans should hold hearings to listen to the victims of climate change,” Inslee said in a statement, from those hit by ongoing flooding in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri to those still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Incidentally, the vote that followed the one on the Green New Deal was on advancing supplemental disaster aid spending — a cost that will likely increase with climate change.
Poll after poll shows that voters want action on climate change. Sensing that trend, several of the Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls have voiced support for the Green New Deal, now viewed as something of a litmus test for whether candidates are taking the issue seriously. And with Inslee’s entrance into the race, a candidate is running a presidential campaign centered entirely on climate change for the first time ever.
Meanwhile, over the past month, Republicans have criticized the Green New Deal as a socialist plot that will eliminate all air travel and Americans’ access to ice cream and hamburgers. One Republican congressman event went so far as to call it “tantamount to genocide.”
“Our children and grandchildren will someday ask what this Congress did to defend them from advancing seas, increasingly extreme weather events, and growing security threats driven by climate change,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in a statement following the vote. “We’ll have to say that today we took a show vote on climate legislation that was intended to fail. I hope this lame stunt is the last gasp of climate denial, and that our Republican colleagues will begin a sincere effort.”
The entire event was deemed “political theater” by Durbin, who asked, “Don’t we all see what’s happening?”
“Don’t we realize this has an impact on this earth that we live on?” he continued. “Don’t we realize that if it continues unabated the earth will be a much more challenging place?”
“Can’t we see the flooding in the streets?… Can’t we see the melting of the glaciers?”