One by one, nearly 30 Senate Democrats came to the Senate floor last night in what they touted as an all-nighter on climate change, a mix of policy speeches and political theater that sought to hammer home their message that climate change is real and Congress needs to act.
But in trying to present a unified front, they also served to underscore the serious hurdle they face in trying to revive climate change legislation that passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate a year later.
Environmental groups noted that the dusk-to-dawn speeches that began March 10 brought nearly one-third of the U.S. Senate to the floor, including Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other members of his leadership team. “Climate change is real,” Reid said. “It’s here. It’s time to stop ignoring the crisis of rapidly rising global temperatures."
But getting one-third of the Senate still left many Democrats missing. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska)—all in competitive races that could decide who controls the Senate next year—were absent.
So was coal-state Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who in a 2010 campaign ad took “dead aim” with a rifle and shot a copy of the cap-and-trade bill. Manchin sounded a note of unity by arguing Democrats are generally in agreement that climate change is occurring. But he said he was not asked to speak on the issue by his colleagues.
“I would have been happy to participate,” Manchin said.
Once-Supportive Republicans Absent.
However, getting the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster threat and pass a U.S. climate bill would require convincing not only such coal-state Democrats but also Republicans.
None of the 45 Senate Republicans joined Democrats on the floor to call for climate action. Instead, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who once called climate change a “hoax,” came to the floor just before Democrats launched their speeches to say he remains a skeptic.
But other Republicans were notable for their absence: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who co-authored three bills over the last decade to put mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who co-sponsored a 2007 emissions cap bill.
Some Republicans, including Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), said there was a reason for that: they were not invited.
“I was actually hoping I might be able to do it early tonight,” Murkowski told reporters, adding that she had worked on a speech days earlier that “speaks to energy issues and weaves climate in [it] brilliantly.”
The Alaska Republican said she would offer the speech soon, adding “I don’t think what you're going to hear tonight is policy. I think it's going to be more theater.”
“I was not approached,” Collins told Bloomberg BNA, before adding that she agreed climate change is a concern. But “this is a partisan exercise,” she said.
Democrats Hope for 'New Dawn' on Climate.
Senate Democrats readily acknowledge that it could take years to revive a climate bill given strong opposition to any legislation by Senate Republicans but also in the Republican-controlled House.
However, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who co-authored the cap-and-trade bill when he was in the House, said Democrats were launching a "new dawn" and that the speeches would bring the Senate one step closer to getting a climate bill passed.
Markey joined other longtime climate advocates speaking on the floor including Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). But there were also newcomers such as Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who argued that the scientific evidence linking climate change to human activity is overwhelming and irrefutable.
Schatz, who was touted as the lead organizer of Democrats’ night of floor speeches, called it an "opening salvo" toward getting legislative action. Markey said he hoped raising the profile of the issue would allow for more comprehensive legislation to be passed in two or three years.
Some Republicans said such predictions were little more than a pipe dream.
"You're going to hear 30 hours of excuses from a group of people who think that's OK," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told colleagues just before Democrats began. “Well it's not OK. It's cruel," he said. "It's cruel to tell struggling coal families that they can't have a job.”
McConnell said environmental advocates and Democrats are targeting the coal industry under the guise of addressing climate change.
Earlier in the day, White House Spokesman Jay Carney stressed that President Barack Obama, who has long supported U.S. climate action, "absolutely" supported the effort by Democrats to highlight the issue with an all-night focus on climate change.
This blog was co-authored by Anthony Adragna.
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