The Washington Post

Senate Democrats plan to pull all-nighter to talk about climate change


U.S. Senate staffers carry posters as Senators from the Senate Climate Action Task Force meet before holding the Senate floor to urge action on climate change on Capitol Hill, March 10, 2014. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

More than two dozen Senate Democrats planned 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.

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 garnered 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 said that he will continue to devote 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 $400,000 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Steyer has quickly emerged as a new source of outside campaign money for Democrats attempting to 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. Steyer says that half of the money will come from his fortune as a former hedge-fund manager, while he hopes the other half will come from donors.

The group plans to stay out of races involving Democrats who oppose climate regulation. That’s why Democratic senators facing tricky reelection races this year — including Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) — 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.”

Republicans dismissed the Democratic talk-athon as an orchestrated thank-you gift for Steyer and other environmentalists.

Senate 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.

“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,” he said in a floor speech Monday afternoon.

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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