Democrats' Hopes for Climate Session Fall Flat as Republicans Largely Avoid Debate


Senate Democrats sought this week to draw Republicans into a debate on the chamber floor on the need for congressional action to tackle climate change, but they came away largely empty-handed as all but one Republican declined the offer.

Of the 45 Republicans, only Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) arrived during the June 9 evening session to take on about a half-dozen Democrats who spent about two hours in a call-to-action on the climate issue, one that has eluded serious legislative attention since a cap-and-trade bill died without a vote nearly four years ago.

Democrats squaring off against Inhofe included several of the most vocal proponents in Congress for U.S. climate action: Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.), along with Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

Inhofe—the former chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and possibly its next chairman if Republicans win back Senate control this fall—came to the floor to remind supporters of climate action that they are 0-for-3 over the last decade or so in Senate attempts to put mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Inhofe, known as the Senate's most vocal climate skeptic, told Bloomberg BNA June 10 that at least one other Republican—Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)—expressed regret at not coming to join in the debate.

“He said, ‘I just realized you were the only Republican and if you'd have called me, I would have been glad to come,’ ” Inhofe said.
“When it comes to this subject, I guess I'm the one who has always been on the line” representing Republicans in the climate debate, he said.

Democrats Hoping to Sow Seeds

Senate defeats for climate legislation date to 2003, Inhofe reminded Democrats in his floor remarks, when a bill offered on the floor by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman—before Lieberman became an independent—was defeated 43-55.

“We defeated the McCain-Lieberman bill; it came up again slightly changed in 2005; we defeated it that time too,” Inhofe said. A 2008 proposal authored by Lieberman and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) also fell short, Inhofe noted. That bill fell by a vote of 48-36 on a motion to invoke cloture.

Heinrich took direct aim at Republicans during his floor remarks, who he said continue to question whether humans are contributing to climate change when scientific consensus is clear that they are. Congressional action, Heinrich said, will require more political courage.

Curbing greenhouse gas emissions “will require innovation, something that our country has done better than any other country in the world,” Heinrich said. “But we will need political will, something we have grown short on as climate deniers have made their way into the halls of Congress.”

'Round Two.'

Democrats invited Republicans to what some aides dubbed “Round Two” of a climate debate, three months after 29 Democrats and two independent senators came to the floor March 10 and spent nearly 15 hours focusing on the need for congressional leadership in addressing increasing global temperatures.

Boxer, Markey and other Democrats requested the June 9 floor time after a handful of Republicans complained that they weren't invited to participate in that first March debate.

Those Democrats asked all 45 Republicans to participate with a May 30 letter, although in the end, only Inhofe accepted their invitation.


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