A group that helps get scientists elected to office wants to host a climate debate among the Democratic presidential candidates, despite the Democratic National Committee warning candidates against participating in any issue-specific debates.
314 Action is putting $100,000 toward a debate and is looking for environmental group partners to help make this debate a reality as soon as this fall.
“Climate change is an existential crisis and it’s worthy of an hour-and-a-half-long debate where Democrats can put forth their plans for voters to see,” 314 Action founder Shaughnessy Naughton told BuzzFeed News in a statement on the debate proposal.
“Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, voters deserve to know what these candidates’ plans are for climate change.”
The debate call comes as the wide field of Democratic candidates embraces fixing climate change like never before, with most vowing to not take more than $200 from fossil fuel executives, as well as industry lobbyists and political action committees, and a handful of the candidates already coming out with detailed climate plans.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was the first Democrat running for president to call for a debate focused exclusively on the climate crisis. Now more than a dozen candidates have backed the idea, including former vice president Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The Democratic National Committee, first in a response to Inslee’s campaign and then in a Medium post, announced in early June that it would not hold such a debate. Moreover, the DNC said it would ban any candidate who participated in a third-party debate from joining future DNC ones, effectively shutting down the possibility of a climate debate.
Despite the DNC’s refusal, momentum for a climate debate has surged. Inslee has doubled down on the idea; former vice president Al Gore, a climate advocate, has endorsed it; youth activists have rallied in front of the DNC headquarters; and an open petition supporting the idea has received over 90,000 signatures. And now 314 Action is directly challenging the DNC.
The argument against a climate debate or any single-subject debate, per the DNC, is that it would bog down the already tight debate schedule and unfairly benefit any candidate with a pet subject. But Tom Perez, DNC chair, said he got the message loud and clear, stressing climate would be an early and frequent issue discussed in the primary debates.
“We have said from the beginning of this debate process that we welcome forums on issues like climate change and believe that candidates should take advantage of these platforms,” Xochitl Hinojosa, a DNC spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News in an email. “In 2017, Tom Perez started meeting with potential media partners and made clear that climate change must be a topic not only at one debate, but multiple debates.”
Putting on a debate could cost up to $1.5 million, so contributions from other environmental groups and donors would help 314 Action be able to follow through on its plans. 314 Action is looking to set a standard debate format in an early primary state, such as South Carolina or New Hampshire, for the event. The group, best known for recruiting a half dozen successful congressional candidates in the 2018 election, will involve a climate scientist in the event.
But the only way this can possibly work is if a critical mass of candidates decides to participate, forcing DNC’s hand.
“We haven’t received an invite, but as the governor has said, he won’t rule out participating in any discussion on our existential crisis of our time,” Jamal Raad, an Inslee spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News.
The Biden campaign declined to comment, and the Amy Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren campaigns did not provide a comment by deadline.