It was nearly 20 years ago when Congress first started considering legislation to address climate change. A bipartisan pair of senators — Republican John McCain and then-Democrat Joe Lieberman — put together a bill called the Climate Stewardship Act, with an early cap-and-trade model, and it generated broad Democratic support. GOP lawmakers and industry lobbyists quickly killed the legislation.
Several years later, House Democrats actually passed a fairly ambitious climate bill called the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act, which would’ve made an enormous difference had it become law. Instead, Senate Republicans killed that legislation, too.
In the years that followed, GOP opposition to addressing global warning hardened, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s declaration on Saturday night, “We have to defeat the climate crisis hoax. It’s a hoax.”
The next morning, Francis Suarez, Miami’s Republican mayor, appeared on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” and pushed a curious criticism:
“The Democrats, unfortunately, have failed to be able to pass bills to address climate at any sort of scale.”
Well, yes, I suppose Democrats have failed to pass ambitious climate bills, but that’s because Suarez’s own political party keeps killing the Democrats’ ambitious climate bills.
When host Margaret Brennan reminded the mayor that the governing Democratic majority might be able to pass legislation to address the crisis “if they had Republican votes,” Suarez conceded the point.
“I think what it means is that it has to be bipartisan in terms of their outreach, in terms of their messaging, in terms of, you know, which is how they passed the, you know, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill with Republican votes,” the mayor responded.
It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? We might finally see some action on the climate crisis, according to Miami’s Republican mayor, if only Democrats engaged in bipartisan “outreach” and “messaging.”
The problem, of course, is that everyone involved in the debate already tried that. Advocates have been pleading with policymakers in bipartisan ways for nearly two decades.
For a while, those efforts appeared to be working. In 2007, Mike Huckabee, of all people, endorsed a cap-and-trade plan. A year later, McCain’s 2008 presidential platform not only acknowledged climate change, it also included a call for a cap-and-trade plan. Newt Gingrich even appeared in a commercial alongside Nancy Pelosi in support of action on global warning.
Democrats were, to borrow Suarez’s phrasing, “bipartisan in terms of their outreach” and “in terms of their messaging.”
And then Republicans moved sharply to the right, rejected climate science altogether, and refused to budge. All the outreach and messaging proved meaningless to a GOP that broadly embraced climate-denial as a staple of party orthodoxy.
If we’re going to talk about Democrats failing to “pass bills to address climate at any sort of scale,” the public needs to understand why this has happened and who’s responsible.