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Senate Democrats plan all-nighter tonight for climate change

Updated 5:37 p.m.

More than two dozen Senate Democrats plan to devote several hours late Monday and early Tuesday morning speaking on the Senate floor in a renewed push for congressional action on climate change.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). (Getty Images)

Environmental groups, buoyed by President Obama’s new aggressive strategy to protect public lands and cut carbon emissions, have been pushing Senate Democrats to adopt a strategy used last year by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who steered hours-long filibusters to blast the Obama administration’s drone and spending policies that earned widespread attention.

With environmentalists planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help Democratic congressional candidates this year, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has told said that he will continue devoting Senate floor time to any colleague eager to discuss the issue. He reiterated that vow while attending a February fundraiser at the San Francisco home of billionaire businessman Thomas Steyer that netted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee $400,000.

Steyer has quickly emerged as a new source of outside campaign money for Democrats eager to find match the rise of conservative super PACs attacking Democrats on the airwaves. He plans to use his advocacy group, NextGen Political Action, to spend about $100 million helping Democrats this year. Half of the money will come from his fortune as a former hedge-fun manager, while the other half will, he hopes, come from donors.

The group plans to refuse to spend money on behalf of Democrats who oppose climate regulation, but will not spend money against them either. That’s why Democratic senators facing especially tricky reelection races this year — Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) especially — were not expected to participate Monday night.

But Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he and other Democrats are eager to discuss the issue and take action. “We’re not going to rest until Congress wakes up and acts on the most pressing issue of our time,” he said, adding later: “Climate change is real, it is caused by humans, it is happening now and it is solvable.”

Tonight's program "isn’t about a particular bill," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who also helped organize the talkathon. "This is about trying to raise the profile and being to gain some momentum on this issue. Then I think we’re in a position to ask corporate America and other groups and organizations to get more engaged and open the kind of space it will take to pass a bill. But the first thing we have to show is that we’re engaged ourselves."

As for whether Senate Democrats would ever actually do something about climate change -- instead of just talking about it -- there currently is no piece of legislation expected to come up for debate soon on the Senate floor. Whitehouse said Monday that Democrats and their environmental allies hope to aggressively campaign on the issue this year and use the next two years trying to pass legislation -- or at least put potential GOP presidential candidates on the record.

"The Republicans have to come up with a presidential candidate. And if they come up with a [climate change] denier, I think they’re going to get trashed," Whitehouse said. "That means if they want to have a chance of winning in 2016, they have to come up with a plausible candidate who’s not a climate change denier. And that would mean they’d have to move their candidates away from the fringe."

But congressional Republicans  have dismissed concerns about climate change and have made an issue of what they call President Obama's "war on coal," a reference to the Environmental Protection Agency's attempts to regulate the coal industry.

On Monday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is running for reelection in a state dependent on the coal industry, said parts of Kentucky are in “an absolute depression” because of the Obama administration’s environmental policy.

In a veiled reference to Steyer, McConnell said in a floor speech, “It’s cruel to tell struggling coal families that they can’t have a job because some billionaire from San Francisco disagrees with their line of work."

Here's a list of anticipated speakers, as provided by Senate Democratic aides:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.

Senator Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo.

Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Senator Al Franken, D-Minn.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Senator Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

Senator Angus King, I-Maine

Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Senator Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.

Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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