House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to head off her party’s restive progressive caucus by invoking the legacy of President Barack Obama to build support for a climate change bill that falls well short of the ambitions of the Green New Deal championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Pelosi is planning a vote by the House this week on a bill that would prohibit President Donald Trump’s administration from going through with plans to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
Liberal Democrats are leaving little doubt that the legislation won’t be enough.
“The idea that we can just reintroduce 2009 policies is not reflective of action that is necessary for now in the world of today,” said Ocasio-Cortez. The New York lawmaker said “there is no harm in passing” the Paris bill, but she still backs the bolder action called for in her Green New Deal, which conservatives have derided as a socialist manifesto.
Revisiting Obama’s accomplishments on climate change mirrors Pelosi’s strategy on other issues, including health care. She often suggests shoring up the Affordable Care Act rather than pursuing bolder policies like Medicare for All that some liberal presidential candidates have embraced but that might unnerve swing voters.
The House is expected to begin debate on the climate legislation, H.R. 9, Wednesday and could take a vote by the end of the week.
There is a legislative argument for House Democrats to start with these bills since Trump has been testing the constitutional limits of what he can do to reverse his predecessor’s signature achievements. He has taken executive action to reverse Obama administration policies and chip away at regulations.
There is also a political rationale for starting with issues that in some cases have become more popular with voters. Moderate Democrats, some of whom displaced Republican incumbents to help regain Democratic control of the House, are wary of being cast with progressive colleagues as they prepare to defend swing district seats in 2020.
“That administration put forward real solutions for the American families,” Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said of Obama’s tenure. “There is no sort of ‘moderate response’ here. It’s just that we are at the beginning of this process.”
The climate legislation by Florida Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor has 224 Democratic co-sponsors.
It would prohibit Trump from making good on his vow to pull out of the climate agreement, under which the U.S. promised to reduce carbon pollution by at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. The legislation bars the Trump administration from using any funds to withdraw from the agreement and instead requires it to craft a plan to meet the greenhouse gas reductions under the accord.
“We must make the Republican denial face the reality of what the Trump administration is doing to our natural environment and our constitutional environment — and act with the boldest common denominator to repair the damage and build a better future,” Pelosi, a California representative, wrote in an Earth Day letter.
Yet that won’t do for progressives who are pushing for more aggressive action and are worried that the vote would be a substitute for meaningful legislation.
“Simply put, it’s the junior varsity bill,” said RL Miller, the chairman of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus and co-founder of the Climate Hawks Vote, a political action committee. “It’s nice but extremely insufficient.”
Focusing on the Paris accord allows Democrats to paint Republicans as opposing solutions to global warming and highlight what they say is a lack of leadership on the issue by Trump, who has dismissed climate change as a hoax.
The White House has issued a veto threat for the bill, reiterating arguments Trump made when he announced he would pull the U.S. out of the agreement — that staying in it would cost billions of dollars, put millions of jobs at risk, and make the U.S. less competitive.
Democrats say they plan additional action on climate change, but have yet to outline the next steps — instead pointing to a special climate committee established by Pelosi to study the issue, a move that critics have dismissed as toothless.
“The Paris agreement is a substantial step in the right direction,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said of the bill up for a vote. “It is a beginning point. It is not a middle point, it’s not an end point.”