House Democrats made their first attempt on Thursday to use their power of the legislative pen to portray Republicans as obstacles to progress on climate change, passing on Thursday a bill designed to force the United States to stay in the Paris climate accord.
Democrats know their bill, which passed 231 to 190 in a vote largely along party lines, stands little chance of being approved by the GOP-controlled Senate. And the odds that President Trump, who decided to pull out of the Paris agreement in the first place, would ever sign it are even slimmer.
But there are lots of reasons House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats moved forward with the Climate Action Now Act.
The measure, first and foremost, is a rebuke to Trump. It serves to reenforce the idea ahead of the 2020 election that Trump and other Republicans are undermining the nation’s commitment to rein in heat-trapping pollution. Only three Republicans — Reps. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) — crossed over to vote with Democrats to pass the bill.
The bill would defund any effort by the federal government to withdraw from the agreement. It would also compel Trump to come up with a plan for meeting the United States’ Paris targets. Under the Paris accord, more than 190 nations voluntarily vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of keeping the globe under 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
So Democrats also hope its passage signals to other countries party to the Paris agreement that, if the next president is a Democrat, he or she is likely to keep the U.S. in the climate agreement.
“Passing this bill is an important signal to our allies, and my expectation is that when we act, we’ll see increased ambition from them, too,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), lead sponsor of the legislation, told reporters a day before the vote.
Though Trump announced his intent to pull out of the Paris accord after only a few months in office, the earliest he could go forward with the withdrawal is November 2020.
“That’s an interesting date, isn’t it?” Castor said.
The Climate Action Now Act also gets Democrats on the record about what kind of tough climate measures they would support. As Democrats work to craft budget bills later this year, they could view certain elements of the bill -- such as zeroing out funding for the Paris withdrawal -- as a template for climate language to include in other must-pass bills.
Yet Democratic leaders have yet to say they will use their budget-writing power to push those provisions any further.
When asked if parts of the Climate Action Now Act would be integrated into a House funding bill at a later date, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said: "Our focus is on pressing the Senate to act."
An aide to Senate Democrats also said lawmakers would demand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the Climate Action Now Act for a vote. During the appropriations process, that aide said senators will be focused broadly on "addressing the climate crisis and getting clean energy wins."
Yet McConnell shut down any hope the bill would be brought up for a vote in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday.
"The futile gesture to handcuff the U.S. economy through the ill-fated Paris deal will go nowhere here in the Senate."
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