Using the legislative process to make a point – or what we might call a “stunt” – is a time-honored and bipartisan tradition in Congress. But some stunts are more revealing than others. The one congressional Republicans just pulled, while it was intended to make a point about Democrats, actually demonstrated something important about the GOP instead.
On one of the most profound challenges ever faced by not just America but humanity as a whole, Republicans are constitutionally incapable of doing anything constructive. Even if some of them have a desire to move in a positive direction, they’ll be overwhelmed by their party’s desire to indulge its worst impulses.
Here’s what happened, according to reporting from the Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni and Felicia Sonmez:
“The Senate on Tuesday rejected the Green New Deal, with Republicans casting the proposal to reduce dependence on fossil fuels to combat climate change as a far-left idea and with Democrats taking the rare step of voting ‘present’ on a politically driven vote.
“The measure failed on a 57-to-0 vote, with all Republicans and four Democrats blocking the resolution. Aiming to avoid an intraparty fight on the issue, 43 Democrats – including those who introduced the Green New Deal – voted ‘present.’
“The vote Tuesday came against the backdrop of historic flooding in the Midwest and repeated warnings including from agencies in the Trump administration about the economic and environmental impact of failing to deal with global warming.
“Yet the vote amounted to a political show vote as President Donald Trump and Republicans deride the Green New Deal, but few in Congress have worked on crafting a bipartisan approach to deal with climate change.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., brought the Green New Deal resolution up for a vote without any hearings and with just a brief floor debate for one purpose: so the vote could then be used to attack Democrats from swing or conservative states as environmental radicals. He made no bones about it, and that’s why Democrats voted “present” even if they support the Green New Deal, as a way of refusing to participate in McConnell’s stunt.
So this, then, is the Republican Party response to climate change. In the executive branch, we have an administration that pulled out of the Paris climate accord, put a coal lobbyist in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, tried to bury government studies showing the threats we face, is rolling back every climate regulation it can find, and of course is led by a man who regularly says climate change is an elaborate hoax.
And in the legislative branch, the GOP’s leadership is focused on trolling Democrats.
Now here’s one of the most disheartening parts. There are some Republicans who do seem to have a sincere desire to do something about the climate. For instance, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has a proposal for what he calls “a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy,” which is focused on spurring innovation in 10 areas, including electric vehicles, solar power and natural gas. You might not like all of it, and you might think that it’s inadequate, given the scale of the problem, but it’s about what you’d expect from a Republican arguing in good faith. At least it’s something.
The truth, though, is that Alexander’s proposal is no more likely to get a genuine examination in the Republican-controlled Senate than the Green New Deal itself is. While there are some Republicans who want to do something about climate change, the party as a whole is just not interested.
Why is that? For starters, Republican politicians are well aware of the steady diet of climate change denialism their voters have been fed for years. For instance, if you tuned in to a Trump favorite TV show, “Fox & Friends,” on a recent episode, you’d have heard Fox personality David Webb telling you: “A lot of times these studies are done by people with agendas, these enviro-terrorists, these eco-terrorists, they want to sell you a narrative. So they peer-review it and say it’s a study, they don’t apply the scientific method.”
Even the Republicans who might feel uneasy that there is an enormous propaganda apparatus built to keep their voters as stupid and ignorant as possible on this issue (and many others) can’t ignore its power.
And in the Trump era in particular (though it goes back further), Republicans have elevated trolling the libs to a foundational value. So if liberals want to address climate change, that in itself is not just a reason not to do it but a reason why we must not do it. There will always be more margin for a Republican politician to shout “Drill baby drill!” or wax rhapsodic about “beautiful clean coal” than to seriously consider steps to lower carbon emissions, because nothing gets the crowd cheering more than something they know will drive liberals nuts.
I suppose it’s possible that at some future date we will pass a threshold of climate disaster that even Republicans can no longer ignore. But everything about the party as it is currently constituted pushes its representatives to deny and distract from the issue and press for policies that will make climate change even worse.
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