Coral Davenport has a nice piece raising the curtain on the coming battle in Congress over the Keystone pipeline, documenting the ways in which it is setting the stage for a much bigger set of arguments over energy policy and climate change. As Davenport notes, this will also tee up the partisan contrasts over energy and climate that will help define the 2016 presidential race.

With that in mind, it’s amusing to see, per Davenport’s report, that Senator Bernie Sanders is planning to introduce an amendment (to the GOP’s bill expediting Keystone) that is designed to get Senators on the record as to whether they believe climate change is a problem — or whether it even exists.

Sanders’ office sends over the text of the amendment. It reads:

It is the sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community and a growing number of top national security experts, economists, and others that —
(1) climate change is real;
(2) climate change is caused by human activities;
(3) climate change has already caused devastating problems in the United States and around the world; and
(4) it is imperative that the United States transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

I don’t have any idea whether this will ultimately get a vote, but incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed an open amendment process, so who knows? If so, it’ll be fun to see how likely GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio vote on it. Other hopefuls who are not in the Senate, like Jeb Bush and Rick Perry, have suggested that the science is not decided on some of these questions.

Polls have suggested that Republican voters are divided on them, with moderate Republicans far more likely to believe in global warming than are more conservative Republicans. The latter, of course, play an outsized role in driving presidential primary politics.

In fairness, one can imagine a handful of red state Senate Democrats (are there any left?) voting against this amendment. But broadly speaking, even if the amendment doesn’t get a vote, we’re likely to see more attention focused in the months ahead on an emerging partisan divide over the science itself — one that could spill over into the presidential race.

President Obama’s executive actions on climate are already making it more likely that the issue will play a higher-profile role than expected in the coming cycle. Hillary Clinton has vowed that Obama’s climate actions must be “protected at all cost.” Meanwhile, Obama is likely to talk a lot about climate — he views it as central to his legacy — which will require the GOP presidential hopefuls to fulminate against his actions.  A global climate treaty next year could mean more attention to the issue, and raise the stakes around the question of whether Obama’s regulations on emissions from existing plants, an important component of honoring our commitment to such a treaty, will be sustained in the years ahead. The question of whether to participate in such a treaty could be a key point of debate in the 2016 contest.

Yes, it’s true that Dems have not yet succeeded in making climate a motivator of voters. But this debate could favorably sharpen the contrast between the parties in the minds of voters who are key to the Dem coalition in national elections (millennials, socially liberal upscale whites) and care about the issue. And at any rate, it can only be a good thing if climate gets talked about a lot more this cycle. A vote on the underlying science would be a great place to start!


UPDATE: GOP Senator Mark Kirk, who might not want to vote on Sanders’ amendment, given that he is up for reelection in a blue state, is claiming that the “powers that be” have informed him that Sanders’ measure won’t get to the floor. That would appear to be a reference to the Senate GOP leadership. A spokesman for Mitch McConnell didn’t immediately return an email for comment.


* REPUBLICANS ROOT FOR SCOTUS TO GUT ACA: GOP Rep. Tom Price, the chair of the House Budget Committee, told a conservative audience that a Supreme Court decision gutting ACA subsidies provides a “great opportunity” for Republicans to repeal (and, supposedly, replace) the law, adding: “This unravels Obamacare pretty darn quickly. That’s a good thing.”

Price joins GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell, John Barrasso, and John Cornyn, who have openly suggested they are looking to SCOTUS to accomplish what Republicans failed to accomplish through the legislative and political process. Will this make John Roberts the least bit uncomfortable?

* CONSERVATIVES PRESS GOP ON IMMIGRATION: With House Republicans set to vote on a measure that rolls back Obama’s executive deportation relief, Senator Jeff Sessions, a diehard anti-“amnesty” warrior, is circulating a memo to every Congressional Republican in sight, demanding that they hold firm to defund Obama’s action. He’s even claiming that the manner in which Congress responds to this “emergency” will “define its legacy.”

It looks like Senate Dems will be able to block such a move. It’s unclear whether GOP leaders will have the stomach for a protracted showdown that risks saddling them with shuttering Homeland Security, though conservatives will cry betrayal and sellout.

* CONSERVATIVES WARY OF GOP CAVE ON IMMIGRATION: With Republicans set to start their three-day retreat to chart the party’s future, the Los Angeles Times reports that the party is deeply divided over how to respond to Obama’s executive actions. Far-right Roy Beck of Numbers USA explains why conservatives want maximum confrontation:

“Republicans in all these districts hate amnesty and they don’t like the president — it just puts all the hot buttons together….Will Congress stand up as an equal part of government or will it continue to allow the executive branch to rule? Really, this is the first test.”

For conservatives, this is a key test of whether GOP leaders are willing to do all it takes to stop Obama’s lawlessness. After all, GOP leaders themselves have described Obama’s actions in similarly lurid terms. Why shouldn’t conservatives expect them to go all out to stop them?

* REPUBLICANS WORRY IMMIGRATION VOTE WILL HURT MODERATES: The Hill reports that some Republicans are worried that the coming vote on rolling back Obama’s executive actions — which would also target his 2012 measure protecting many DREAMers from deportation — could put Republican Senators up for reelection in 2016 in a bad political spot. With a number of GOP Senators up for reelection in states Obama has carried, this is another reminder that we’re playing on the 2016 map now.

 * GOP DEBATES HOW TO TARGET OBAMACARE: One looming question for Republicans is whether they will use “reconciliation” to target the health law with simple majority Senate votes, as some on the right want. But Senator John Thune, the number three in the leadership, says that tactic should be reserved for tax reform:

“I would rather use reconciliation to do tax reform, which I think is very pro-growth — and have votes on Obamacare” separately…”There’s going to be a lot of interest in using it to repeal Obamacare, but you only get so many bites at the apple for reconciliation.”

After all, Republicans can rely on the Supreme Court to gut Obamacare for them, so why waste this tactic?

* AND ROMNEY TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT AS CONSERVATIVE? The Post reports that Mitt Romney is hastily reassembling his political machinery for a genuinely possible second bid for the presidency. He tells one donor that he “almost certainly will” run. Note this:

In the conversations, Romney said he is intent on running to the right of [Jeb] Bush, who is also working vigorously to court donors. and other party establishment figures for a 2016 bid. Romney has tried to assure conservatives that he shares their views on immigration and tax policy — and that should he enter the race, he will not forsake party orthodoxy.

One imagines this means Romney will lurch to the right on immigration in keeping with today’s GOP, which makes his previous self-deportation stance look almost moderate by comparison! What percentage of the Latino vote did Romney get in 2012 again?