This post has been updated.
The United States Senate voted Wednesday to agree that climate change "is real and not a hoax." That was it, the full extent of the amendment to the Senate's slow-moving Keystone XL pipeline bill. Final tally: 98 to 1.
This was one of two traps set up by Democrats to get their opponents on the record as disputing the authenticity of human-caused global warming, a phenomenon nearly universally accepted by the scientific community. But it didn't go as expected.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who introduced it. Inhofe can claim credit as a primary inspiration for the amendment, having literally written a book called, "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future." But Inhofe joined Whitehouse and urged its passage.
He was up to something. On Twitter, beforehand:
Senators - join me in voting YES on Whitehouse's amdmnt saying climate change is a hoax, bc it is. I'll address my vote in floor speech soon
— Jim Inhofe (@jiminhofe) January 21, 2015
When offered the chance to speak on the amendment, Inhofe -- did we detect a twinkle in his eye? -- explained his unexpected argument. The climate changes all the time, he said, citing both scientific and "Biblical evidence." There was a hoax: the idea that man was responsible. Such a position was "arrogant," in his formulation, the idea that people could affect the mechanisms that controlled the globe. With that distinction drawn -- the climate changes, and that change isn't a hoax, even if the role of humans is -- the vote was held. Only Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) voted 'no.'
It was a nifty, if insincere, bit of politics. There's no question that a vote against a flat statement that climate change is real could have been problematic for candidates down the road -- especially for those various Republican senators quietly preparing for the big election in 2016. With Inhofe's re-framing the question, the Democrats, trying to engineer a gotcha moment, ended up empty-handed on the vote, with neither the satisfaction of nailing down opposition to scientific consensus and without a point of leverage for future discussions of addressing the warming planet.
Update: Two later votes on amendments linking humans to climate change were rejected. One was introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who ended up voting against it. A vote to end a filibuster on that amendment failed 59 to 40. Another, from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), said that humans were "significantly responsible" for climate change. It failed to achieve cloture as well, 50-49, after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) argued that it placed too much emphasis on human causes. Several Republicans supported it.
How will these votes come to bear on future elections? In every case, senators can say they supported the idea that climate change is real, which would blunt their votes on the other amendments. Well, in almost every case: Mississippi's Wicker can't say that, but it seems unlikely to hurt him.