Prominent Democrats have rushed to embrace the Green New Deal — and Republicans couldn't be happier about it.
As liberal groups pressure presidential candidates and lawmakers to back the ambitious climate proposal, Republicans hope their opponents may drift so far to the left that they will be more vulnerable in 2020. Since the election of President Donald Trump — who dismisses the link between carbon emissions and rising temperatures — Republicans have mostly steered clear of climate change, but in the Green New Deal they see a chance to pivot the argument back towards economics as growing majorities accept the underlying science.
“I would like them to push it as far as they can. I’d like to see it on the floor. I’d like to see them actually have to vote on it,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a senior Appropriator, told POLITICO. “It’s crazy. It’s loony.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump's most vocal champions, echoed that sentiment. “Let’s vote on the Green New Deal!” Graham tweeted Friday. “Americans deserve to see what kind of solutions far-left Democrats are offering to deal with climate change."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) formally introduced their Green New Deal vision on Thursday, with a nonbinding resolution that is just 14 pages long (compared to the more than 1,400 pages in the cap-and-trade bill that passed in 2009). This leaves myriad details to be worked out before Democrats would have actual legislation ready to bring to the House floor.
Still, the resolution is more ambitious than any climate proposal previously floated on Capitol Hill: It calls for a 10-year “national mobilization” to move the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, provide health care for all, increase wages and expand union rights through a massive federal stimulus. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she has no immediate plans to bring the resolution up for a vote.
Several high-profile presidential candidates have already co-sponsored the resolution, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Republicans quickly bashed the concept as technologically impossible, unimaginably costly and a “socialist fever dream” that they said would ultimately cost Democrats moderate seats across the country.
“I think this will be a piñata that Republicans will continue to hit and use to their advantage in the 2020 elections. It’s a policy piñata,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist.
Ocasio-Cortez says Democrats should not fear the coming GOP attacks.
"We have tried their approach for 40 years. For 40 years we have tried to let the private sector take care of this. They said, ‘We got this, we can do this, the forces of the market are going to force us to innovate,’" she told NPR on Thursday. "Except for the fact that there’s a little thing in economics called externalities. And what that means is that a corporation can dump pollution in the river and they don’t have to pay, but taxpayers have to pay.”
Other Democrats say they are not giving up on the chance for bipartisanship.
“Who knows what they’re cooking up on their side?” asked Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a Green New Deal backer. “But I think we have some Republicans that have evolved on this issue and potentially even some partners in moving bipartisan things forward.”
Meanwhile, polls have shown growing acceptance of the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change — even among Republicans. Monmouth University polling from November 2018, for example, found 64 percent of Republicans now believe the science, up 15 percent from just three years prior. That same study found 51 percent of GOP voters supported the government doing more to address the causes of climate change.
Conservative Republicans, such as Environment Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), are denouncing it as a "socialist manifesto." More moderate Republicans are avoiding that rhetoric, but say they would prefer more immediate — if incremental — advancements in innovation, boosting clean manufacturing, infrastructure projects and improving soil quality for farmers.
“I think everyone on our side would say that the Green New Deal is a little bit much,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a senior Energy and Commerce Republican, told reporters.
Others see early signs that the progressive faction may paint Pelosi into an unworkable position that could end up costing Democrats seats.
“There’s this new wave of Democrats that make Pelosi look moderate and I never thought I’d see that day,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the Energy and Commerce Committee's top-ranking Republican. “You see this Green New Deal rollout, you see Medicare for all rollout and you don’t see her buying into those proposals in any great embrace. I think it’s going to be important for the American people to understand the consequences of those proposals.”
Another Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney (Fla.) didn’t immediately discount the climate aims of the Green New Deal, but noted it had “big goals but there’s nothing of substance to figure out how to get there.” He favored technological innovation and a price on carbon to drive down emissions, like the bipartisan carbon fee legislation he’s offered.
George David Banks, a former climate and international energy adviser to Trump, said the Democrats' proposal should not be dismissed out of hand, praising elements such as calls to address soil health or increase research and development.
“If you’re pretty clear that a significant part of the Green New Deal isn’t based in political reality or economic reality but there is some common ground that would win the support of most Americans, I think that’s fine,” said Banks, who is now executive vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation.
That tenor emerged in the run-up to Ocasio-Cortez and Markey unveiling their plan. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee emphasized the need for research spending, noting they agreed with scientists that greenhouse gases from human activity were warming the planet.
Given that a number of high-profile House Democrats have declined the co-sponsor the Green New Deal, such as Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (N.J.) and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chairwoman Kathy Castor (Fla.), there appears to be enough of a political middle to strike bipartisan deals, said Rich Powell, executive director at ClearPath, who testified at the Energy and Commerce hearing.
“It seems like a lot of folks are tacking toward a more moderate position on this,” said Powell, whose group advocates for research and development in emissions-reduction technology such as next-generation nuclear power and carbon capture, and sequestration for coal and natural gas power plants.
The tone differed in the House Natural Resources Committee. Republicans downplayed climate change by pointing to warmer periods during the world’s long history. Scientists say combustion of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels and other sources has driven current levels of CO2 and average temperatures much higher than they normally would be given the planet’s position and angle relative to the sun.
Industry and conservative groups are ready to give such sentiments backing. Many came out strong against the Green New Deal, demonstrating that Republican allies off the Hill will be keeping a close eye on how members position themselves.
“The Green New Deal is nothing more than the latest job-killing, socialist wish list from the radical left obsessed with climate change, Medicare-For-All, free college, and a total redistribution of wealth,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement.