WASHINGTON — On an overcast February day here, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York joined more than a dozen congressional Democrats to unveil her generation’s response to the potentially catastrophic effects of a warming planet — an ambitious resolution calling for a “Green New Deal” to tackle climate change and restructure the economy.
But before she addressed the crowd of supporters gathered near the front steps of the US Capitol on the issue that had propelled her into Congress, the 29-year-old hugged Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a lawmaker old enough to be her grandfather, and turned the microphones over to him.
“We have acted on this scale before, and we must do it again,” he said, calling their resolution necessary to address the highest global temperatures and levels of wealth disparity the country has ever seen. “Our energy future will not be found in the dark of a mine but in the light of the sun.”
In turning to Markey as her Senate co-sponsor, Ocasio-Cortez selected a lawmaker with a decadeslong record that includes legislation on climate change and pollution, as well as policy on telecommunications and nuclear weapons.
It also served a political purpose for Markey: His partnership with a rising star in the party helped burnish his liberal credentials as he headed into his reelection campaign.
Now, Markey, 73, faces a potential primary challenge in 2020 from another young lawmaker, Massachusetts Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who confirmed Monday he is considering a run. And in what would be a daunting intra-party fight with a member of a political dynasty, Markey’s most potent weapon is his long record in Congress.
But Markey will have to base a campaign on that record at a time when voters are putting less stock in experience, as shown by the success of several insurgent Democrats who ousted veteran incumbents in 2018. His party is also in the minority in the Senate, meaning he has had less chance to actually pass legislation since arriving there in 2013.
“It is a double-edged sword,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University and expert on Congress.
“There used to be a time when one of the big talking points was. ‘I have experience, I produce legislation, I don’t need on-the-job training,’ ” he said. “Now in some instances, for some, it is a liability.”
Although some political analysts say Markey lacks the star power and outsized persona of other Democratic senators, he is seen as a liberal workhorse with a strong legislative track record on environmental and technology issues since being elected to the House in 1976. When he moved to the Senate to replace John Kerry, Markey arrived having served more time in the House — almost 37 years — than anyone in American history who then went on to serve in the Senate.
And in an age when some Democrats are demanding more direct clashes with President Trump, Markey has a reputation for forging broad legislative coalitions.
Markey is known more for creating clever acronyms — saying the GOP is the Gas and Oil Party and EPA under the Trump administration stands for Every Polluters’ Ally — than soaring oratory and has never been chosen by Democratic leaders to deliver a State of the Union response.
“He is funny, and in intense situations he comes out of nowhere with a good line,” said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has worked with Markey for years.
Markey told the Globe that he’s energized to fight Trump, and his legislative work put him ahead of the curve on such environmental issues as climate change, which he was working on years before it became the major political topic it is now.
“I take those issues very personally because of the threat it poses to the planet and the younger generations who are going to have to live with the consequences,” he said, before directing a shot at Trump instead of Kennedy. “I think the president is inflicting a great moral injury on our country by denying the science and refusing to move.”
There is little playing field to the political left of Markey. Congressional Quarterly last year found he voted with the majority of Democrats 100 percent of the time, one of only five senators from his party with a perfect party unity score.
Markey, a Malden native, was elected to the House in 1976 as a Democratic insurgent. He requested a committee position that allowed him to work on technology and environmental issues.
One of his first major endeavors was pushing a resolution in the 1980s to freeze the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the 1990s, he wrote legislation that helped launch the nation’s satellite television industry. His most sweeping proposal to become law was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which helped inject competition into a sector that was expanding into Internet service.
He also has been a leading advocate for net neutrality rules to prohibit broadband and wireless companies from favoring some websites over others by charging for faster speeds.
On net neutrality, activists credit Markey for bringing the issue to the mainstream in 2005, when he allowed the musician Moby to perform at his press event. Few knew the definition of the term then.
Markey and Wyden partnered to introduce legislation to create the first set of net neutrality rules. They were eventually promulgated as regulations by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama but the agency repealed them under Trump.
“In Washington there aren’t many final victories,” Wyden said. “You get moving, you make progress, and then you come back. That is what the great legislators like Markey do. You come back for another day.”
Markey scored a significant bipartisan victory last year when he corralled enough Republican support in the Senate to pass a measure invalidating the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules. But the effort died in the Republican-controlled House.
On technology issues, Markey “is the most important member of Congress and has been for 30 years,” said Andrew Schwartzman, a longtime telecommunications consumer advocate and senior counselor at the Benton Foundation, which advocates for the public interest on technology issues.
But Markey is most well-known for his environmental work.
In 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped him over several other key lawmakers to head a new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
He drafted legislation that President Obama signed to increase fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. And a 2009 bill that Markey co-authored would have capped emissions through 2050 for several greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, and established a system for trading emissions allowances. It passed out of the House but died in the Senate.
Last week, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sunrise Movement, a group of young people devoted to stopping climate change, both endorsed Markey’s 2020 reelection bid even in the face of a potential Kennedy challenge.
“It is hard to think of someone else nationally who has been as consistent a champ on energy and climate issues,” said Elizabeth Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “He has been chipping away for decades.”
Markey has embarked on a series of town hall events to promote the Green New Deal across Massachusetts in the past few months.
“They look at us and they say, ‘socialism’ — and you know what we say, ‘Give us the socialism you have had for the fossil fuel industry for the last 100 years,” he said of opponents of clean energy tax credits at a town hall in Framingham last week, drawing loud applause from an audience.
Asked by a reporter at the February Green New Deal news conference why he expected to be successful in addressing climate change this time, Markey said the effort he had helped start has turned into a movement.
“The green generation has risen up, and they are saying that they want this issue solved,” he said. “We now have the troops. We now have the money. We’re ready to fight.”
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