The Senate on Tuesday rejected a Green New Deal calling on the country to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to fight climate change, with Republicans casting it as a costly, far-left idea. The measure failed on a 57-to-0 vote, with all Republicans and a handful of Democrats blocking the resolution. Aiming to avoid an intraparty fight on the issue, 43 Democrats – including those who introduced the Green New Deal – voted “present.”
Yet the vote amounted to a political show vote as President Donald Trump and Republicans deride the Green New Deal.
The broad proposal from freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., envisions the United States achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within a decade while guaranteeing Americans high-paying jobs and high-quality health care.
Republicans call it unrealistic and see it as a means to divide Democrats, pitting liberals who have embraced the idea, including some 2020 presidential hopefuls, against moderates from Republican-leaning states.
Forcing the vote was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who called the plan a “far-left wish list.”
“The proposal addresses the small matter of eliminating the use of all fossil fuels nationwide in a 10-year time frame,” McConnell said Tuesday. “This might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York, the places that the Democratic Party seems totally focused on these days. But communities practically everywhere else would be absolutely crushed.”
He told reporters at the Capitol that he believes climate change is real and a result of human behavior. But he added, “The question is, how do you address it?”
McConnell panned Democrats’ “present” strategy on Tuesday. “Do you believe it’s a prescription for America? Then why would you not want to vote for it? A vote for ‘present’ is a vote for it,” he said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, added on the Senate floor: “To hide behind some cop-out vote like ‘present’ is just to take the easy way out.”
Democrats have countered by calling McConnell’s maneuver a “sham,” saying the vote was being held without hearings or expert testimony, all merely in an effort to scuttle meaningful legislative efforts on climate change.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday that McConnell’s “stunt is backfiring” and that it was becoming clear that “the Republican Party is way behind the times on clean energy.”
“I heard talk here about floods in the Middle West,” Schumer said, speaking shortly after Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, raised the issue at the Senate GOP news conference. “To not do something about climate change when you know your communities are being hurt by it is so badly representing the voters of your state.”
Later on the Senate floor, Ernst again raised the issue of the severe flooding in Iowa, but she made no mention of climate change in her remarks. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what Ernst would like to see done to address the issue.
The main Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., was unapologetic about the broad scope of his proposal. “It is the national-security, economic, health care and moral issue of our time,” he said Tuesday at a pro-Green New Deal news conference in front of the Capitol.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said it is politically savvy to set a seemingly aspirational goal, as President John F. Kennedy did when he called for sending a man to the moon.
“We don’t know if we can get to net zero carbon emissions in 10 years, but we should certainly try,” Gillibrand said at the press event. “Why not this be a measure of great we are as a nation?”
The sweeping proposal, incorporating liberal priorities like repairing historic oppression of Native Americans and ensuring access to healthy food, was designed by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey to win supporters.
That effort paid dividends when the resolution was introduced and co-sponsored in early February by six Senate Democrats now running for president.
But a chorus of detractors, including some Democrats, said the resolution was a liberal wish list containing many items only tangentially related to reducing climate-warming emissions or addressing their impacts.
Others said the goal of drastically curbing the release of the heat-trapping gases across U.S. electricity, manufacturing, transportation and agricultural sectors within just 10 years is impossible to achieve.
Among them is former Colorado governor and 2020 Democratic presidential aspirant John Hickenlooper, who said in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Washington Post that the vision being pushed by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey has “laudable aims but also take an approach that limits our prospects for success.”
“The resolution sets unachievable goals,” Hickenlooper said. “We do not yet have the technology needed to reach ‘net-zero greenhouse gas emissions’ in 10 years. That’s why many wind and solar companies don’t support it.”
Ernest Moniz, President Barack Obama’s energy secretary, has also criticized the idea of an all-renewable energy economy by 2030 as “just unrealistic.”
“And putting forward unrealistic goals in my view may impede our progress if it starts to leave behind key constituencies,” Moniz said last month on the day the Green New Deal was introduced.
Many congressional Republicans took things a step further, claiming the resolution called for restrictions or outright bans on air travel or beef consumption that the text of Green New Deal did not contain.
“Say goodbye to dairy,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., on the chamber’s floor. “Chick-fil-A stock will go way up” because Democrats are “trying to get rid of all the cows,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., joked at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
Democrats on Tuesday fired back at those assertions.
“Nobody is out there banning …burgers,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in floor remarks. “Nobody is going to be taking that milkshake out of your hands, either. . . . There is no building trains to Hawaii, nobody banning airplanes, nobody trying to take people’s cars.”
One irony of the Green New Deal proposal is that it is forcing some Republicans to put forward their own climate proposals after being led by for two years by Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed as a hoax the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that humans are warming the world.
Barrasso, for example, has emphasized in op-eds a nascent technology that can capture and store carbon at coal-fired power plants and other facilities before it hits the air. Another GOP senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is calling for the nation to double its federal energy research funding, in part to build new types of nuclear power plants.