Did the Senate’s Climate Change Vote Matter?

January 29, 2015

Above, aspiring Republican Senate candidate. Could he be headed for disappointment?

Last week’s Senate’s sideshow vote on “whether Climate Change was real” seemed a bit lame to me, and the results useless. But with tentative, but continued trial balloons on the issue from several Presidential aspirants, I think it does fit  that there is a sense of unease in the GOP,  heading into the ’16 election, that the party is poorly positioned – in an area that is clearly coming into its own, and will only fester.
Indeed, years of hostility and neglect may already have left the party permanently damaged in the estimation of future historians, if there are any.

E &E News:

“We had a chance to vote, and people cast the votes they believed in,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who voted for the amendments offered by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.). “That’s all it amounted to.”

But others noted that Republican Senate leaders evidently saw an upside in giving GOP members the chance to go on the record now, after many have used the “I’m not a scientist” line to studiously avoid doing so for years. Now their votes declared that climate change is real and industrial greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to it.

Those who follow Republican climate messaging say that at least some of the amendment supporters were motivated by political considerations. Seven of the 15 Republicans who voted for one or both of the amendments — and Hoeven himself, who voted against his own amendment for strategic reasons — are up for re-election next year. Several are running in blue and purple states where President Obama won handily in 2012. And Hoeven’s own office has acknowledged that his amendment — which held that man-made emissions are driving climate change without qualifying that impact as “significant” — was intended to give cover to some of his GOP colleagues.

Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), two of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election next year, voted for both the Hoeven and the Schatz amendments — the latter of which stated that human emissions were a “significant” climate driver. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who are also running in swing states, backed the Hoeven language.

David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, said that the pivot appeared to be calculated.

“It seems like there is sort of this recognition that the Republican message on climate needs to change,” he said.

Jenkins saw last week’s votes as part of a continuing evolution in the Republican message on warming — which started with denial that warming of any kind is occurring, moved through noncommittal statements about the role human emissions play, and has now arrived, for some, with an acknowledgement that man-made climate change is real.

“It doesn’t get you to what you would do about it and supporting solutions, but it’s definitely a shift,” he said. “And it makes sense, because why would you continue on a stance like that when polling shows that most Americans think it is simply ignoring the facts?”

Several recent polls have shown that a growing number of voters believe that human emissions are having an effect on climate. A recent Yale University survey found that even certain segments of Republican voters hold that view, and back Obama administration moves to contain emissions.

Other GOP strategists said that the votes showed climate change soul-searching by some Republican lawmakers — for better or worse.

“There are about a dozen and a half Senate Republicans who don’t yet have their feet set right on the issue,” said GOP strategist Mike McKenna. “They’re not completely comfortable with where they are yet.”

These include some members, like Kirk, who feel political pressure to weigh in on warming, he said. And others might be pushed by staff or strategists to leave themselves room to maneuver — though McKenna said this is misguided, because few of their constituents will care how they vote on climate anyway.


One likely Republican presidential candidate called the Environmental Protection Agency “locusts” while another compared climate change to a “sunburn,” exposing a contrast with several other likely contenders within the party who recently acknowledged the role of human activity in climate change.

National Republicans almost universally have opposed President Barack Obama’s plan for addressing climate change and how he has used the EPA to achieve those goals, but Senate votes the week of Jan. 19 showed some acknowledge the problem is real even if they disagree about how to address it. Those divisions are slight but important as Republicans consider a 2016 presidential nominee, environmental advocates have said.

Those Senate votes came as 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who may run a third time for the presidency, called for “real leadership” to reduce carbon emissions Jan. 22.

“I’m one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that,” Romney said at an investment management conference, according to the AP.

Romney has held several views on climate change during presidential runs. In his 2012 presidential campaign, he spoke of the issue rarely and told one gathering: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Congressional observers previously told Bloomberg BNA the Senate amendment votes served an important purpose of beginning an open debate about climate change again while also showing internal divisions within the Republican party about the issue.


4 Responses to “Did the Senate’s Climate Change Vote Matter?”

  1. mboli Says:

    It still disappoints me that this particular shuck and jive works.

    Logically, the position of a senator who has voted for these amendments is: “I have come understand we are hosed. Also, don’t expect any apologies for my past and continuing participation in the cook-the-planet activities of my party. Please reward me.”

    They get the reward for finally saying some of the right words. They don’t even acknowledge they have spent their time as a legislator directly holding up progess, and the world is permanently damaged because of it. And they won’t stop their party from doing it more in the future unless and until the party as a whole changes position.

  2. redskylite Says:

    As someone who lives at the opposite side of the world, and became concerned about climate change late in life, (and now have plenty of time to study it) – I would like to see a similar vote within my own country’s parliament. – The topic is very rarely mentioned here (if ever) and it would be really good to know our politicians/parties views on it. I found this article by Puneet Kollipara and David Malakoff in today’s AAAS Sciencemag on the topic very insightful.


  3. indy222 Says:

    A more hopeful sign – a popular uprising reported in today’s news against David Koch on the Board of WGBH Boston, headquarters for the (at one time, anyway) well regarded science show Nova. If Nova could extricate itself from under the Koch Brothers thumbs, and make up for lost time with a high density of soon-to-come climate disasters shows… A huge reason for inaction is the conspiracy of silence in the mainstream media.


    • dumboldguy Says:

      I am proud to be one of the signatories of the “Dump David Koch”petition delivered to WGBH by Forecast the Facts, The fight against the influence of David Koch on public television has been going on for years, and a number of groups are involved. David Koch has donated nearly $30 million to public television in recent years in order to buy a bit of “respectability” and to gain some leverage over PBS content. He and his conservative friends have made efforts to quash “740 Park” and “Citizen Koch”, two PBS documentaries that are not complimentary to the plutocracy.

      WGBH has been caught between a rock and a hard place. The decreasing $$$ from the government (thanks to the efforts of Repugnants in Congress who view PBS as a “liberal scourge”) has made them too dependent on Koch $$$ and $$$ from other conservatives who followed Koch’s lead. If Koch is thrown off the board and in retaliation takes his $$$ and friend’s $$$ with him, it will be painful for WGBH.

      My bet is that he would continue to support PBS even if canned because he doesn’t need any more bad publicity and can certainly afford a few tens of millions to buy some good press (especially in view of planning to spend $900 million to buy the 2016 election).

      One of many sources on Koch and PBS


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