Democratic National Committee members on Saturday voted 222–137 to reject a resolution that would have effectively allowed the party's presidential candidates to hold a debate dedicated to climate change.
The contentious vote on the last day of the DNC’s August meeting in San Francisco follows months of growing pressure for a climate debate from Democratic presidential candidates and climate activists nationwide.
Earlier in the week, the DNC’s resolution committee voted through a resolution that was updated to encourage “candidates to participate in multi-candidate issue-specific forums with the candidates appearing on the same stage, engaging one another in discussion” — effectively opening the door for a climate debate. On Saturday, this resolution went up for a larger vote but ultimately was squashed. (A separate resolution more directly calling for a climate debate had been rejected earlier in the meeting.)
The calls for a climate debate originated in April, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of the presidential race just this week, pitched the idea.
DNC Chair Tom Perez initially shot down the suggestion, arguing such a move would open the floodgates for other single-issue debates. Perez also warned that candidates who participated in a third-party climate debate would be barred from participating in the next DNC-sponsored one.
While the DNC has received requests for other single-issue debates, such as on anti-corruption and seniors' issues, the support for one focused on climate is unmatched in both tenor and magnitude. The Democratic presidential field has largely endorsed the climate debate idea, including top polling candidates such as former vice president Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, which is not true of any other issue. That’s because many of these candidates are on the record calling climate change the most pressing issue. In Sanders’ new climate plan, he refers to the climate crisis as the “single greatest challenge facing our country.”
Support for a climate debate extends beyond the candidates, earning the praise of many green groups. Young climate activists with the Sunrise Movement in June camped out for days in front of the DNC headquarters in Washington, DC, to protest the party’s firm line opposing the idea. They have since held protests at local DNC offices nationwide. Many activists were at the Saturday meeting, trying to drum up support for the debate before the vote results were in.
After the results were announced, activists erupted into the chant, "Failure of leadership."
In the absence of an earlier decision on the climate debate, both CNN and MSNBC announced they would be hosting climate forums. Earlier this week, CNN reported that Sen. Kamala Harris was not planning to make the outlet’s Sept. 4 climate town hall and that she was the only candidate who qualified who was planning to skip it. Immediately, climate activists, including those from Sunrise, took to social media to call on Harris to change her mind. Within a day, the Harris campaign announced it was reversing course and would attend the event.