WASHINGTON — The Senate turned away from the Green New Deal on Tuesday as both parties shunned an opportunity to debate a comprehensive climate change plan offered by Democrats.
Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate forced the vote as they seek to turn the Green New Deal into a wedge issue in the 2020 elections. Democrats called the GOP’s move a “sham” and said it carries its own political risk by mocking an issue — climate change — that a growing number of Americans care deeply about.
Senators voted 57-0 against a procedural motion to take up the nonbinding resolution, which calls for the U.S. to shift away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
Three Democrats and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, joined all 53 Senate Republicans in opposing the climate plan. Forty-three Democrats voted “present” to protest the GOP’s action. Democrats accused the GOP of quashing debate by blocking public hearings and expert testimony about the consequences of inaction on climate change.
In shifting the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels, the Green New Deal calls for virtual elimination by 2030 of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.
The plan has broad support among Democratic activists, and all six of the 2020 presidential contenders serving in the Senate have signed on as co-sponsors, putting it at the forefront of the party’s sprawling primary race.
However, Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper said Tuesday he opposes the Green New Deal. The former Colorado governor said the proposal sets “unachievable goals” and shuns the private sector.
Republicans say the plan would devastate the economy and lead to a huge tax increase. They call it more evidence of the creep of “socialism” in the Democratic Party, along with “Medicare for All” and a sweeping elections reform package that would allow public financing of congressional campaigns.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky scheduled Tuesday’s vote, saying it would force Democrats to take a stand on a plan that “might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York” but would result in communities across the country being “absolutely crushed.”
By “basically outlawing the only sources of energy that working-class and middle-class families can actually afford,” the Green New Deal would “kill off entire domestic industries” and eliminate millions of jobs, McConnell said. The plan could lead to a spike in household electric bills of more than $300 a month, he said.
President Donald Trump also weighed in against the plan, which the White House called “job crushing.” At a luncheon with Senate Republicans, President Trump urged lawmakers to keep the Green New Deal alive as an issue to use against Democrats.
“He said it’s important to run against,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. Trump likes the way the Green New Deal makes Democrats “uncomfortable,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called the Green New Deal “ridiculous” and displayed pictures of dinosaurs, cartoon characters and babies as he derided the plan. He said he was treating it “with the seriousness it deserves.”
One poster Lee displayed depicted President Ronald Reagan shooting a machine gun while riding a dinosaur that was holding a U.S. flag. The outlandish image was intended to illustrate the U.S. winning the Cold War, Lee said, but its fictional nature served a purpose: “Because this image has as much to do with overcoming communism in the 20th century as the Green New Deal has to do with overcoming climate change in the 21st,” he said.
Lee’s remarks enraged Democrats, who called climate change deadly serious, citing floods in the Midwest, wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South.
“Climate change is not a joke,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the resolution’s lead Senate author. “Mocking it is shameful.”
Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the lead House author, trolled Lee’s argument on Twitter. “If this guy can be Senator, you can do anything,” she wrote to her 3.7 million followers.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of a half-dozen senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president, said Republicans treat climate change “as a game” and said Democrats “will not fall for this stunt.”
Slowing climate change “should be our nation’s moonshot” in the 21st century, Gillibrand said, calling it a generational challenge similar to the race to the moon in the 1960s.
“We don’t know if we can get to net-zero carbon emissions in 10 years, but why not try?” she said at a rally before the Senate vote.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Democrats were being hypocritical by refusing to vote for their own plan. “I’ve never seen a bill sponsored by a dozen people who don’t want to vote on it,” he said.
The Green New Deal goes far beyond energy to urge national health care coverage and job guarantees, high-quality education and affordable housing, as well as “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States” to be energy-efficient. Democrats have not specified a price tag, but Republicans say costs could run into the tens of trillions of dollars.