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Sen. Edward Markey, D- Mass. at rally
Matthew Daly Associated Press
Published: 26 March 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate turned away from the Green New Deal on Tuesday as both parties shunned an opportunity to debate a comprehensive climate change plan offered by Democrats.

Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate forced the vote as they seek to turn the Green New Deal into a wedge issue in the 2020 elections. Democrats called the GOP's move a "sham" and said it carries its own political risk by mocking an issue — climate change — that a growing number of Americans care deeply about.

Senators voted 57-0 against a procedural motion to take up the nonbinding resolution, which calls for the U.S. to shift away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

Three Democrats and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, joined all 53 Senate Republicans in opposing the climate plan. Forty-three Democrats voted "present" to protest the GOP's action. Democrats accused the GOP of quashing debate by blocking public hearings and expert testimony about the consequences of inaction on climate change. Senator Jeff Merkley's statment on the vote is lower on the page.

In shifting the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels, the Green New Deal calls for virtual elimination by 2030 of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.

New Green Deal Kept Alive as an Issue in 2020 Election

The plan has broad support among Democratic activists, and all six of the 2020 presidential contenders serving in the Senate have signed on as co-sponsors, putting it at the forefront of the party's sprawling primary race.

However, Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper said Tuesday he opposes the Green New Deal. The former Colorado governor said the proposal sets "unachievable goals" and shuns the private sector.

Republicans say the plan would devastate the economy and lead to a huge tax increase. They call it more evidence of the creep of "socialism" in the Democratic Party, along with "Medicare for All" and a sweeping elections reform package that would allow public financing of congressional campaigns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky scheduled Tuesday's vote, saying it would force Democrats to take a stand on a plan that "might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York" but would result in communities across the country being "absolutely crushed."

By "basically outlawing the only sources of energy that working-class and middle-class families can actually afford," the Green New Deal would "kill off entire domestic industries" and eliminate millions of jobs, McConnell said. The plan could lead to a spike in household electric bills of more than $300 a month, he said.

President Donald Trump also weighed in against the plan, which the White House called "job crushing." At a luncheon with Senate Republicans, Trump urged lawmakers to keep the Green New Deal alive as an issue to use against Democrats.

"He said it's important to run against," said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

Trump likes the way the Green New Deal makes Democrats "uncomfortable," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called the Green New Deal "ridiculous" and displayed pictures of dinosaurs, cartoon characters and babies as he derided the plan. He said he was treating it "with the seriousness it deserves."

'Climate change is not a joke.'

One poster Lee displayed depicted President Ronald Reagan shooting a machine gun while riding a dinosaur that was holding a U.S. flag. The outlandish image was intended to illustrate the U.S. winning the Cold War, Lee said, but its fictional nature served a purpose: "Because this image has as much to do with overcoming communism in the 20th century as the Green New Deal has to do with overcoming climate change in the 21st," he said.

Lee's remarks enraged Democrats, who called climate change deadly serious, citing floods in the Midwest, wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South.

"Climate change is not a joke," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the resolution's lead Senate author. "Mocking it is shameful."

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the lead House author, trolled Lee's argument on Twitter. "If this guy can be Senator, you can do anything," she wrote to her 3.7 million followers.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of a half-dozen senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president, said Republicans treat climate change "as a game" and said Democrats "will not fall for this stunt."

Slowing climate change "should be our nation's moonshot" in the 21st century, Gillibrand said, calling it a generational challenge similar to the race to the moon in the 1960s.

"We don't know if we can get to net-zero carbon emissions in 10 years, but why not try?" she said at a rally before the Senate vote.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Democrats were being hypocritical by refusing to vote for their own plan. "I've never seen a bill sponsored by a dozen people who don't want to vote on it," he said.

The Green New Deal goes far beyond energy to urge national health care coverage and job guarantees, high-quality education and affordable housing, as well as "upgrading all existing buildings in the United States" to be energy-efficient. Democrats have not specified a price tag, but Republicans say costs could run into the tens of trillions of dollars.

AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this reporter.

Merkley Statement on Green New Deal Vote:

merkley election2020 introSenator Jeff Merkley, D-OR“I remember well the moon landing fifty years ago this summer. Our leaders challenged Americans to accomplish something, to be the most innovative and to beat other countries to the moon—and we did it in less than a decade. And for the last five decades, we have reaped the benefits as the indisputable technological leader of the world.  

“Today’s vote was the equivalent of Mitch McConnell and his colleagues responding to President Kennedy’s challenge by trying to score political points by claiming America can’t get to the moon and anyone who thinks we should try is a fool. I think it’s a whole lot more foolish to bet against Americans and to refuse to address, or even acknowledge, the biggest global crisis we will face in our lifetimes. 

“The facts on the ground don’t lie and Americans, especially in rural areas, are living the impacts every day. We see it in the growing mega-fires in the West, more destructive hurricanes in the East, and horrific flooding in the Midwest. Climate chaos is here, it will only get worse, and lives and livelihoods are at stake. 

“It’s time to move past ‘gotcha’ politics and on to a real debate on the bold action that is necessary to save our communities.

"Unfortunately, we can’t have a good-faith policy debate while one party remains a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry. We need bipartisan acknowledgment that this crisis is real; that it presents an existential threat to our nation; and that the only serious solution is to make the bold pivot from polluting fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy in the next dozen years. 

“The good news is this: We can, and will, create millions of good-paying jobs by driving the transition to clean and renewable energy. And while I and my colleagues will continue to press forward on federal policy to transition to 100% clean and renewable energy, there’s no reason that businesses, cities, or states need to wait. The time to act is now. And with a grassroots movement across America, we can drive the transition to 100% renewable and lead the world in a Green New Deal that saves our planet and our health, and rebuilds our middle class.”

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