Republicans believe blasting the Green New Deal will be a winning strategy going into the 2020 elections, capitalizing on the Democrats recently botched rollout of the bold climate proposal.
As Republicans, and especially those in swing states, struggle to figure out how they will address climate change, “the Green New Deal clarifies the Republican position,” Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former communications director for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s much easier to say I care about climate change but oppose the Green New Deal.”
Rather than endorse it, use it as the start of a negotiation, or ignore it, “it's better to wage a war against it,” said Matt Gorman, the former communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee. “I think Republicans are going to use it across the ballot.”
It seems as if Mitch McConnell is on board for this plan, too. The Senate majority leader announced on Tuesday that he’s going to schedule a vote on the Green New Deal, in order to get Democrats on record supporting or opposing the controversial proposal.
“We'll give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how they feel about the Green New Deal,” McConnell said.
For months a vague political concept, the Green New Deal took a less amorphous shape last week, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, unveiled a nonbinding resolution outlining a few concrete, if broad goals.
Under the sweeping 10-year proposal, the government would eliminate “pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible,” such as by cutting down emissions coming from the agricultural, transportation, and manufacturing sectors. The plan also lays out environmental goals unrelated to climate change, such as “guaranteeing universal access to clean water” and “cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites.”
The proposal would also require the US to buck its dependence on fossil fuels and instead meet all of its power demand “through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” And, as part of this massive switch, the Green New Deal would “create millions of good, high-wage jobs.”
The resolution makes note of the International Panel on Climate Change’s special climate report, published in October, which found the impacts of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming would be worse than originally thought.
Democratic presidential contenders Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker all co-sponsored the resolution in the Senate; so did Bernie Sanders, who appears likely to announce his own campaign. Another possible presidential hopeful, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, said on Monday he’s excited about the Green New Deal.
Recent public polling by climate communication experts at Yale University and George Mason University shows that more people in the US are worried about climate change than ever, with 6 in 10 Americans identifying as “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change. Moreover, polling has shown voters overwhelmingly support renewable energy. There’s even bipartisan support for the Green New Deal based on a survey done before the proposal was more defined.
But the deal’s rollout was a mess. Ocasio-Cortez’s office released a Green New Deal FAQ sheet to reporters with claims that didn’t match up with the resolution, including language about getting rid of “farting cows and airplanes” and providing “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.” (Some of the FAQ sheet language overlapped with a blog post on Ocasio-Cortez’s website.)
The blog post was promptly taken down, and Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, acknowledged the FAQ sheet was mistakenly published. Neither Ocasio-Cortez or Markey immediately responded to requests for comment.
President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly questioned man-made climate change, has mocked the Green New Deal, and Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel attacked the proposal, in part, based on language in the FAQ sheet.
They aren’t alone. “This Green New Deal is nothing more than a radical far-left proposal that has no basis in reality,” Sen. James Inhofe, a prominent climate denier who once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to mock global warming, told BuzzFeed News by email. “The fact is, you can’t run the machine called America without fossil fuels and nuclear energy or the millions of jobs this deal seeks to eliminate.” (The FAQ sheet, though not the resolution, called for decommissioning nuclear plants.)
The Green New Deal is being “defined by the most outlandish parts of it,” Gorman said. “It's hard to combat that.”
“This was a mistake by Democrats because it took an issue they have been winning on and turned it into a liability,” Conant said. “Clearly, this was an unforced error.”
The growing national interest in climate change has come at the same time Trump and many of his top officials have not only cast doubt on the scientific consensus that man-made climate change is a real and urgent problem, but also rolled back policies responding to the threat.
Conservatives who do want action on climate change are more optimistic about how the Green New Deal could shape a larger climate policy discussion. “It’s causing Democrats to go far to the left on climate, which does create an opportunity for a more reasonable mainstream proposal,” said Alex Flint, executive director of the conservative climate group Alliance for Market Solutions.
Flint’s group is pushing one such solution: a carbon tax. The idea of combating climate change with a market-based approach, like a carbon pricing system, is supported by conservative political leaders from past administrations and former Congress members, young Republicans, some Democrats and climate scientists. However, it’s not yet gained traction with a majority of Republicans in Congress or the Trump administration.