Did Senator Edward J. Markey make a huge political mistake by sponsoring the Green New Deal with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Senator Mitch McConnell clearly thinks so.
McConnell, the Republican leader from Kentucky, opposes the sweeping plan to remake the American economy with a federal jobs guarantee and an aggressive, 10-year campaign to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
But in a provocative political gambit, he vowed this week to bring it to a vote on the Senate floor, effectively forcing Democrats to back up their climate-change rhetoric by taking a stance on a bill the Republican National Committee has likened to a “long socialist wish-list.”
The move outraged Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, who said that fast-tracking the bill for a vote would short-circuit the committee hearings, expert testimony, and grass-roots activism that would help build public support.
“The Republicans don’t want to debate climate change,” Markey said Wednesday. “The Republicans haven’t offered any plan to address this economic, health, national security, and moral issue, and that is why they want to sabotage this movement that is calling for action that threatens their fossil-fuel friends.”
Scott Sloofman, a McConnell spokesman, scoffed at that claim on Wednesday.
“It appears Senator Markey is confused,” he said. “The leader is giving his far-left, pie-in-the-sky proposal a vote in the United States Senate. If that qualifies as ‘sabotage’ to him, perhaps that speaks more to the ridiculousness of his resolution than to any action by the leader.”
Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, said the vote will put Democratic senators — particularly those running or thinking about running for president — on record on a measure Republicans consider deeply unpopular.
A nonbinding resolution, the Green New Deal envisions a dramatic transformation of the economy, with a federal guarantee that every American have a job, paid vacations, retirement security, high-quality health care, and affordable housing. It also calls for a 10-year effort to transition the country to clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from coal and oil as much as is technologically feasible.
The measure does not explain how the country would achieve those goals, leaving it to Congress to work out the details.
With the exception of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, all of the declared and potential presidential candidates from the Senate — Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — have co-sponsored the Green New Deal.
“I was pretty blown away at the number of Democrats that actually endorsed this because the liabilities are so significant and what the proposal itself entails is so far out of the mainstream, it’s like it’s cooked up in an incubator in Silicon Valley,” Holmes said. “There’s nowhere in Middle America where this would make any sense to anyone, and yet folks who are ostensibly running on a national ticket have somehow put their name on it.”
Supporters of the Green New Deal point out that while McConnell may believe that a vote on the resolution will hurt Democrats, there is evidence that most Americans back federal legislation to combat climate change.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in December found two-thirds of Americans — a clear majority — believe climate change is a serious problem and the nation needs to take action, up 15 percentage points from 1999.
“As with Medicare for All, the Green New Deal is pretty popular, and it’s going to get increasingly popular, which is something Republicans don’t understand,” said Craig Altemose, executive director of the Better Future Project, a grass-roots climate action group in Cambridge. “With every superstorm, heat wave, and flood, more and more people are going to be calling for big, bold solutions, and this is the first time anyone in Congress has put forward that kind of solution.”
But the botched rollout of the plan has given Republicans fodder for attacks.
Many have seized on a fact sheet initially released by Ocasio-Cortez’s office that said the Green New Deal guarantees “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.” The fact sheet, in a section discussing emissions targets, also said the country may not be able to fully eliminate “emissions from cows or air travel” over the next 10 years.
Ocasio-Cortez’s office later retracted the document, saying it was a draft that was released by accident. But Republicans continue to mock it.
“Over the last two weeks or so, what we’ve seen is not so much the Democratic Party going over the cliff, but the Democratic Party showing its true colors, that they truly do want the power to radically remake every American’s lives by banning vehicles and banning air travel, and even banning cows,” Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said on the “Hugh Hewitt Show,” a conservative radio talk show.
Republicans hope a vote on the Green New Deal, in addition to targeting Democratic presidential candidates, will squeeze Democratic senators in swing states, forcing them to choose between moderate voters who oppose drastic measures to curtail carbon emissions and the progressive base of the party, which enthusiastically supports such measures.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, is among those who have not taken a position on the bill. Her office said Wednesday she is reviewing the resolution.
“Democrats are united with the scientific community in recognizing the critical need to address climate change,” Shaheen said. “We have many good ideas on how to do that and I would welcome a debate on any and all of them.”
McConnell has not yet set a date for a vote, but Republicans have tried his tactic before.
In 2017, Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana forced a vote on a single-payer health care amendment during a debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act. But liberal senators who support single-payer voted “present,” torpedoing what they called a political ploy.
Last year, House Republicans considered bringing a progressive proposal to abolish Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to the floor for a vote, banking that it would hurt vulnerable Democrats in the midterm elections.
But the GOP abandoned the idea when the measure’s backers made it clear they would not vote for it, calling it a “political stunt.”
Markey said Wednesday that he and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, are discussing how to respond to McConnell’s maneuver on the Green New Deal.
No matter the outcome, Markey said, climate change will be a mobilizing issue for young voters and environmental groups in 2020. “I’ve never seen them more ready to go and they are outraged by this stunt,” he said.