The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A senator’s argument against the Green New Deal: A machine gun-toting Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) took an unconventional approach to blast the Democratic plan to tackle climate change on March 26. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

Clad in a sharp, dark-colored suit, former president Ronald Reagan cuts a striking figure. But his attire isn’t what makes him formidable. He’s riding a velociraptor, which has a tattered American flag clutched in its talons. With a rocket launcher strapped to his back, Reagan fires a machine gun at an unseen foe.

The fantastical depiction of the 40th president of the United States may sound like a hallucination, only it’s not. On Tuesday, thanks to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the artwork made its debut on the Senate floor amid debates over the Green New Deal.

Senate defeats Green New Deal, as Democrats call vote a ‘sham’

“I rise today to consider the Green New Deal with the seriousness it deserves,” Lee said, just hours before the proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) failed in the Senate, with all Republicans and four Democrats blocking the measure, The Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni and Felicia Sonmez reported.

Enter Reagan and the dinosaur.

“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,” Lee said, presenting the image on a large poster. “The aspirations of the proposal have been called radical. They have been called extreme. But mostly they’re ridiculous. There isn’t a single serious idea here, not one.”

But Lee’s use of eye-catching visual aids in his denouncement of the broad climate change measure didn’t stop there. As CNN’s Anderson Cooper noted during his Tuesday show, Lee may not be the first politician to bring “giant novelty-size posters” to the Senate floor, but he took the approach “to a whole new level.”

Throughout his roughly 14-minute address, Lee referenced images of Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars” riding a tauntaun, a fictional species of snow lizard; Aquaman on a 20-foot purple sea horse; and Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s (R) cameo battling sharks with a tennis racket in “Sharknado: The 4th Awakens.” Lee’s tactic swiftly set social media ablaze, drawing reactions ranging from confusion to derision, and even prompted a scathing response from Ocasio-Cortez.

During his rebuke of the Green New Deal, Lee chose to highlight what he described as “two of the most prominent goals” of the proposal: the elimination of air travel and cows. As The Post’s Fact Checker Blog has reported, the actual resolution doesn’t mention getting rid of airplanes and cows. Planes and the methane-producing animals were referenced in documents released by Ocasio-Cortez’s office that were later retracted. The congresswoman’s spokesman Corbin Trent also told The Post the statements were “literally — clearly — irony.”

What’s actually in the ‘Green New Deal’ from Democrats?

Still, that didn’t keep Lee from mocking the measure by taking aim at what life would be like without air travel.

“How are we supposed to get around the vast expanses of, say, Alaska during the winter?” Lee asked, but he already had a solution in mind.

“I’ll tell you how: tauntauns,” he declared. The woman handing him the picture of the “Star Wars” scene could be seen stifling a smile.

Lee continued with mock seriousness. “While perhaps not as efficient in some ways as airplanes or as snowmobiles, these hairy bipedal species of space lizards offer their own unique benefits,” he said. “Not only are tauntauns carbon neutral, but according to a report a long time ago and issued far, far away they may even be fully recyclable and usable for their warmth especially on a cold night.”

Though Lee acknowledged that he would likely be met with criticism for “not taking climate change seriously,” the rest of his argument against the Green New Deal continued in a similar vein — full of sarcasm and accompanying posters.

“Let’s be clear . . . climate change is no joke, but the Green New Deal is a joke,” Lee said, before offering an alternative recommendation to combat environmental issues: have more babies.

Sen. Mike Lee says we can solve climate change with more babies. Science says otherwise.

On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez hit back at Lee over his remarks. She accused the Utah Republican of not taking his job seriously and slammed him for using his congressional allowance to “print Aquaman posters.”

“If this guy can be Senator, you can do anything,” she tweeted.

In a statement to The Post Wednesday, Lee’s spokesperson Conn Carroll wrote, "As far as the criticisms of Sen. Lee’s speech, if the authors of the Green New Deal want to disparage love, marriage, and having kids, we wish them the best of luck.”

Lee’s unconventional presentation also caught the attention of CNN’s Cooper, who couldn’t resist poking fun at the senator.

“Okay, yowzer,” Cooper said Tuesday after playing a clip of Lee discussing Reagan on the velociraptor. “I’m a little concerned that in Senator Lee’s mind President Reagan requires both a machine gun and a rocket launcher. While I never saw President Reagan riding a dinosaur, I do remember hearing that up until like Franklin Roosevelt, Air Force One was just a pterodactyl.”

Among social media users, many, including Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, could not believe the images circulating of Lee in the Senate weren’t photoshopped.

“Please tell me this is photoshopped,” Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, tweeted, sharing an image of Lee next to the Star Wars tauntaun poster. Several hours later, Hamill appeared to learn that the photo was very real.

But others defended Lee and praised his arguments.

Several people called for Lee and Ocasio-Cortez to go head-to-head in a debate.

While the pair have yet to face off in person, Ocasio-Cortez addressed climate change in a committee hearing on Tuesday and her impassioned comments quickly went viral. One clip shared to Twitter had more than 3 million views by early Wednesday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made an urgent call to address climate change during a committee hearing on March 26. (Video: Financial Services Committee)

“People are dying,” she said. “This is serious. This should not be a partisan issue.”

The question, Ocasio-Cortez said, is no longer about whether money will have to be spent on climate change-related issues.

“As towns and cities go underwater, as wildfires ravage our communities, we are going to pay,” she said. “We’re either going to decide if we’re going to pay to react or if we’re going to pay to be proactive.”

Here are a few of the creative ways lawmakers have gotten their points across in the House and Senate. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)