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Power Up: Why Florida could be the 'avant-garde' of the Republican party on climate change

with Brent D. Griffiths

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BREAKING: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced a full withdrawal of the extradition bill that has sparked months of sometimes violent arrests on city streets to “fully allay public concerns,” Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin report. "Protests erupted in June in this semiautonomous city after Lam put forward a bill allowing people to be extradited to the mainland to be tried by the justice system there."

Outside the Beltway

A CHANGE IN TONE: Florida, on the front lines of Hurricane Dorian and some of the most extreme climatic events in recent years, could become ground zero for a quiet shift among Republicans who have finally started to acknowledge the devastating effects of global warming. 

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), asked by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace whether he believed there was a connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, conceded that “the climate's changing” and “our storms seem to be getting bigger.” 

While Scott cautiously added that “we don't know what the cause is,” it was nonetheless a surprising answer given the former Florida governor's legacy of banning state employees from using the term “climate change.”

  • Then: Employees under Scott were reportedly instructed to say “nuisance flooding” instead of “sea level rise.”
  • Now: “We've put money into dealing with things like sea-level rise … we've got to continue to figure this out,” Scott told Fox. 

“I think without question Florida is the avant-garde of the party — because climate change is a local issue and because Florida is a state where the environment is top of mind for most voters,” former Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo told Power Up.

  • Key: “There is a lot of room for growth,” Curbelo acknowledges, “but Florida is the place where a bipartisan solution for climate change can be born because Republicans are in a better position to lead.” 

Curbelo, a moderate who represented the Florida Keys before losing his reelection last year, was one of the few congressional Republicans who defied the party orthodoxy by aggressively focusing on climate change in his district. He hopes the recent spate of hurricanes will spur others to take up the charge. 

  • “We've had five mega hurricanes in the last four years — we had a total of 35 in the last 169 years if you look at historical data,” Curbelo said. “So Republicans are increasingly going to be compelled to confront and address this issue with fact and sincerity and with thoughtful ideas.” 

Ammunition: “Scientists have warned that hurricane intensity will rise over the next century as ocean waters warm, providing more energy to tropical systems as they move toward land,” Daniel Cusick and Thomas Frank report in Scientific American. “Research since 2017 has borne out such predictions, with larger, wetter and more destructive hurricanes occurring almost annually,” per Cusick and Frank. 

From the director of Texas Tech University's Climate Science Center: 

More Florida momentum: Florida's new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, made a sharp turn from his predecessor and created two new state positions this past year focused on environmental policy: a Chief Science Officer and a Chief Resilience Officer — both designed to respond to the effects of global warming in the state. 

A self-described “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” DeSantis has focused on the connection between Florida's economic dependence on the health of the environment. 

  • Dorian fallout could reinforce these concerns: "[Hurricane] Dorian could inflict losses of as much as $40 billion, depending on whether the storm hits the eastern coast of Florida in the next few days,” analysts at UBS Group AG projected, according to Bloomberg's Will Hadfield
  • DeSantis's focus on the economic risks may serve as a model for other Republicans to begin to tackle the issue: “What really matters to Republican voters is having Republican leaders begin to actively talk about climate change and talk about it in a conservative way,” Matto Mildenberger, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California Santa Barbara, told Power Up.

There is, indeed, a disconnect between the two parties in how they view climate change. Below is a map Mildenberger and his team produced for the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication illustrating this chasm. You can see the differences between how the estimated percentage of registered Democrats (top) and Republicans (bottom) responded when asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement that they personally experienced the effects of global warming. 

Challenges remain: To be sure, there has been little meaningful action on climate change at the federal level. The Senate quashed the Green New Deal proposal championed by liberal Democrats in March. And President Trump has questioned his own government's findings that climate change poses a threat to the U.S. Most recently, Trump skipped a discussion on climate change with world leaders at the G-7 meeting in Biarritz, France last month. 

  • Tip of the spear: The blue wave in 2018 wiped away about half of the GOP members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers seeking consensus about how to tackle climate change. It now has 41 Democrats and just 22 Republicans, when it was previously known for having an equal number from each party. 
  • Another Florida connection: Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), who succeeded Curbelo as co-chair, introduced a carbon tax bill earlier this summer but has found little GOP support for his proposal. 

Clock's ticking: However, some Republicans warn there's a political imperative to address the issue soon if their party wants to attract the next generations of young voters. “Time is running out not just from a science perspective but from a political perspective,” Curbelo told Power Up.

  • Even GOP pollster and strategist Frank Luntz, who in 2001 instructed Republican politicians in a memo to “scrub their vocabulary of 'global warming,' because it had 'catastrophic connotations,'" according to my colleague Dan Zak, had a change of heart. 
  • Mea culpa: “I was wrong in 2001,” Luntz told Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis in July. “Climate change matters more to Democrats and less to Republicans, but younger Republicans do care about it — a lot — and want something done in a bipartisan effort … now.” 
  • Mildenberger says his own research backs that up: “Republican voters in many parts of the country hold much more pro-climate views than you would expect hearing some of the rhetoric that comes from Republican elites.”

Republicans need to confront Trump on this issue, Curbelo says: “The president makes a lot of statements on the environment that are false and misleading,” Curbelo said. “I think for Republicans who take this issue seriously, they have to point that out and indicate that they disagree with the president and then move past his comments because then they become a major distraction and the focus should be on solutions.” 

Global Power

BORIS' BAD DAY: "British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a devastating loss Tuesday on his first key Brexit vote, setting up a legislative battle Wednesday that could lead to a snap general election," our colleagues Kevin Sullivan and Karla Adam report

  • The upshot: "A rough day for Johnson, when 21 members of his own Conservative Party joined opposition lawmakers to take control of the parliamentary agenda and force a vote on a Brexit delay, concluded with the prime minister introducing a bill seeking a general election," Kevin and Karla write.
  • The scene inside of Parliament: Johnson lost his Parliamentary majority literally before he even finished speaking. "The Tory MP Phillip Lee took the more radical step of crossing the floor of the Commons to join the Liberal Democrats, removing the PM’s majority just as Johnson prepared to address MPs about last week’s G7 meeting," the Guardian's Heather Stewart and Peter Walker reports.
  • The outlook for a possible election: Johnson announced late Tuesday night that he would seek a general election. But it's not entirely his call. Johnson needs two-thirds of Parliament to vote in favor of scheduling an election. "Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party was prepared to fight an election, but he first wanted Parliament to pass the delay bill and ensure that Britain won’t abruptly crash out of the E.U. in October without a deal to manage the withdrawal," our colleagues write. 

Remember: Johnson has previously said Brexit would be resolved by Halloween. There's a final and crucial E.U. summit scheduled for October 17. An election. if it were to occur, would happen before the summit. All of this would happen in the next 58 days. 

In the Agencies

BORDER WALL CONTROVERSY: "The Pentagon will delay or suspend 127 military construction projects so that $3.6 billion can be diverted to shore up President Trump’s border wall, Defense Department officials said Tuesday," the New York Times's Helene Cooper and Emily Cochrane report. The Pentagon declined to release a list of the affected projects, but promised one later this week.

  • The details: "Top Pentagon officials said the $3.6 billion will fund 11 projects providing 175 miles of new or reconstructed wall along the border with Mexico and help reduce the need for American troops deployed there," our colleagues Paul Sonne and Seung Min Kim report.
  • What are military construction projects?: Anything from "renovating schools on U.S. military bases to expanding naval piers to accommodate more submarines," Paul and Seung Min write. "An analysis by The Washington Post earlier this year found that projects in Puerto Rico and initiatives to help European nations deter Russia were particularly vulnerable to being defunded."

Democrats blasted the move: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to fight the administration in court. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) reminded everyone that Trump repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for the wall. 

The People

THE DONNYBROOK OVER DOONBEG: Vice President Pence "spent both Monday and Tuesday nights at Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, in a small town on Ireland’s southwest coast, returning to the village after meetings with Ireland’s top elected officials," our colleagues Robert Costa, David A. Fahrenthold and John Wagner report. "Pence defended that decision — which required him to fly to Dublin and back on Air Force Two — by saying that he wanted to visit Doonbeg so that he could have dinner with his family at Morrissey’s, a pub here owned by a distant cousin." 

  • But  it wasn't exactly convenient: "On Tuesday, he spent one hour in a motorcade from the golf resort to Shannon Airport, then another hour or so on the 140-mile flight to Dublin, then took another motorcade to his meetings. Then he did it all over again, in reverse, that evening."
  • And it raised concerns about conflicts of interest for the president: "For Trump, however, that itinerary meant more revenue, as U.S. taxpayers paid for rooms for Pence and his traveling party." 
  • Pence's chief of staff initially said Trump suggested staying there: "“It’s like when we went through the trip, it’s like, ‘Well, he’s going to Doonbeg because that’s where the Pence family is from,’ ” Short said Tuesday. “It’s like, ‘Well, you should stay at my place."
  • Now though, the VP's office is claiming the episode has been "misreport[ed]" 

In the Media

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