Climate Change Divides Dems as DNC Plots 2020 Strategy

Climate Change Divides Dems as DNC Plots 2020 Strategy
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Climate Change Divides Dems as DNC Plots 2020 Strategy
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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SAN FRANCISCO­ — With their presidential standard-bearer far from certain and the country’s Rust Belt once again pivotal to winning the White House, Democrats are already wrestling with how hard to push their green agenda.

The Democratic National Committee, at its summer meeting here this week, rejected a resolution by activists to back a climate-specific television debate, sparking angry protests from environmentalists who interrupted the meeting. Besides displaying the party’s seams on the issue, the move also risks alienating young voters whose energy and turnout are essential for victory in November 2020.

Symone Sanders, a top strategist for former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, was the leading voice against the resolution during Thursday’s DNC summer meeting. Sanders argued that having single-issue debates would be disruptive to an already lengthy debate process that forces candidates to spend more time prepping for the face-offs instead of talking to voters.

“This would throw the whole process into a free for all,” she said, also referring to the issue as “dangerous territory in the middle of the primary process.”

Tad Devine, a leading Democratic media strategist, backed her up on Twitter.

“For the DNC to sanction single issue debates on climate or other important topics would be like opening up Pandora’s box,” he said. “The fair process that have put [sic] in place ain’t broken so they shouldn’t try to fix it.”

Nearly 200 environmental activists from the Sunrise Movement, which famously pressed California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to support the Green New Deal in viral video, attended the meeting to urge the party to sponsor such a debate.

After the DNC’s resolution committee voted down the proposal, the activists vowed to keep the idea alive and fight for it on the floor of the general session on Saturday.

“Who supports a #ClimateDebate?” the Sunrise Movement tweeted Friday morning. “20 of 23 Democratic presidential candidates, nearly 2/3rds of Democratic voters, 100+ DNC voting members. Why won’t @DNC leadership listen?”

For now, the differences among the Democratic field aren’t really focused on policy but how the party should elevate and frame the climate issue during the contentious primary. Ten Democratic presidential candidates are signed up to participate in a CNN town-hall forum on climate issues in early September, but party activists aren’t satisfied without a full televised debate focused solely on the issue.

Party officials also are keenly aware that President Trump is trying to replicate his 2016 success in coal-mining states and parts of the Rust Belt where fossil fuels continue to play an outsized role in jobs and the economy.

The Trump campaign said Democratic climate change divisions on display at the DNC summer convention showed that the liberal wing of the party is trying to force a radical Green New Deal on the country, which will only hurt the eventual nominee in several key battleground states.

“Democrats will have a hard time selling their plan to eliminate the jobs of more than 10 million Americans who work in fields related to the fossil fuel industries,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told RealClearPolitics. “Coal, oil, and natural gas, and industries they support, are vital to the economic health of states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan – among many others – to say nothing of the damage to Americans who care about the costs of their energy bills. 

“Under President Trump, America is the world leader in energy production. Under Democrat plans, we’d be powering everything with wishes and windmills and our economy would tank as a result,” he added.

The Trump campaign was downright gleeful after Biden, during the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, pledged to impose a fossil fuel ban if he wins the White House. Since then, the front-runner hasn’t backed down, saying he’s “all in” on addressing climate change on the campaign trail.

“Bye bye coal, Democrats & @JoeBiden just said they are done with you. How do you feel about that Pennsylvania?” Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale tweeted during that debate.

Despite Biden’s “all in” talking points, he faces pressure from virtually every other Democrat in the race on the issue. On Thursday, Bernie Sanders released a $16.3 trillion blueprint to fight climate change, the most expensive proposal from the field of candidates aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. It calls for the United States to end fossil fuel use by 2050.

Asked about how the fossil fuel bans play in Pennsylvania and the critical Rust Belt, David Bergstein, the DNC’s battleground state communications director, lashed out at Trump’s trade and economic policies, which he argued are “hurting working families.”

“You’ve seen from some of the national polling and certainly from the results of the 2018 cycle – his agenda is not resonating with voters,” Bergstein said.

Presidential candidate Tim Ryan, an Ohio congressman, said during the DNC convention Friday that he is disappointed the committee rejected the climate-focused debate proposal.

Ryan said Democrats need to go “on offense” to win over rural voters who backed Trump in 2016 by discussing the need for job training and new-energy industries that he said would be sure to create manufacturing job across the country.

“Let’s play offense in rural America,” he said, arguing that Trump lied to Ohio voters that there wouldn’t be manufacturing job losses in the state during his presidency. “I will chase his rear end across Ohio and the Great Lakes and will send him back to Mar-a-Lago.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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