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Markey challenges Kennedy, other opponents to November debate on climate change

Senator Ed Markey attended a rally against climate change at Boston City Hall Plaza on Friday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

US Senator Ed Markey, facing what could be the toughest reelection fight of his career, is calling for a November debate on climate change with the candidates challenging him for his Senate seat — including US Representative Joseph Kennedy.

“I was very disappointed at the Democratic National Committee’s refusal to hold a debate on climate change for our presidential candidates,” Markey said in a video released Saturday morning. “In Massachusetts, we can do better than that. So today I’m challenging Congressman Joe Kennedy, Shannon Liss-Riordan, and Steve Pemberton to a climate change debate, and to do it very soon.”

The senator’s announcement was released Saturday morning, shortly before Kennedy formally announced that he was challenging Markey for his seat.


Liss-Riordan and Pemberton have already declared their candidacy for the Senate seat.

In Saturday’s approximately one-minute video, Markey highlighted his role in authoring the Green New Deal — legislation intended to restructure the economy and combat climate change — with US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On Sept. 13, the New York lawmaker endorsed Markey for reelection to the Senate.

Markey, who was first elected to the House in 1976, is working to stave off a primary challenge from Kennedy. An election fight between the two has some Democratic observers worried it would potentially split the party as Democrats gear up for a 2020 battle to reclaim the White House and Senate, and retain control of the House.

“I thank all of my opponents in advance, and all the people of Massachusetts who show me every day how committed they are to fighting the climate crisis. Together, we can save our planet,” Markey said in the video.

On Saturday, Kennedy’s campaign was non-committal on the specifics of Markey’s proposal but said they agreed on the importance of debating climate change for voters.


“There are a series of critical issues Joe believes must be debated in front of the Massachusetts people, including climate change, healthcare, housing, civil rights, economic justice and countless more. He looks forward to working with all candidates in the race to set a robust schedule over the course of this campaign,” said Kennedy campaign spokeswoman Emily Kaufman.

Liss-Riordan and Pemberton accepted his debate proposal right away Saturday. But like Kennedy, they pushed the incumbent to agree on debates focused on other issues, too.

“I’m at a climate change rally in Sandwich this morning. Of course I agree to a climate change debate. We must also debate the other issues that working people face each and every day,” Liss-Riordan said via Twitter. Then she challenged him to a debate on the future of the economy in the fall.

The Pemberton campaign, in a statement, said: “Climate change is the existential crisis of our times and the fact that we have made little progress is an indictment of the elected officials who have failed to act for decades. But we should not stop with a one-off debate. Steve challenges all candidates to commit to at least one debate a month throughout this primary on all the issues facing Massachusetts and the nation.”

Pemberton’s campaign listed income inequality and health care as topics, among others.

In his video, Markey asked environmental groups in Massachusetts “who have shown the greatest commitment to fighting climate change” to sponsor the debate and establish a format that will “provide the best opportunity for voters to hear from all of the candidates,” Markey said in the video.


He proposed the debate be held the week of Nov. 11.

“For the next generation, we can’t wait,” he said.

John Hilliard can be reached at Victoria McGrane can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.