The vote Tuesday came against the backdrop of historic flooding in the Midwest and repeated warnings including from agencies in the Trump administration about the economic and environmental impact of failing to deal with global warming.
Yet the vote amounted to a political show vote as President Trump and Republicans deride the Green New Deal, but few in Congress have worked on crafting a bipartisan approach to deal with climate change.
The broad proposal from freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) envisions the United States achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within a decade while guaranteeing Americans high-paying jobs and high-quality health care.
Republicans call it unrealistic and see it as a means to divide Democrats, pitting liberals who have embraced the idea, including some 2020 presidential hopefuls, against moderates from Republican-leaning states.
Joining Republicans in voting “no” were Democratic Sens. Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), as well as Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Forcing the vote was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who called the plan a “far-left wish list.”
“The proposal addresses the small matter of eliminating the use of all fossil fuels nationwide in a 10-year time frame,” McConnell said Tuesday. “This might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York, the places that the Democratic Party seems totally focused on these days. But communities practically everywhere else would be absolutely crushed.”
He told reporters at the Capitol that he believes climate change is real and a result of human behavior. But he added, “The question is, how do you address it?”
Democrats have countered by calling McConnell’s maneuver a “sham,” saying the vote was held without any hearings or expert testimony, all to scuttle meaningful legislative efforts on climate change.
“McConnell tried to rush the #GreenNewDeal straight to the floor without a hearing,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “The real question we should be asking: Why does the Senate GOP refuse to hold any major hearings on climate change?”
The vote was in part intended to put the six Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate on record. But those 2020 hopefuls — all of whom co-sponsored the legislation — voted “present” on Tuesday, with several decrying the vote as “a political game.”
“Combating this crisis first requires the Republican majority to stop denying science and finally admit that climate change is real and humans are the dominant cause,” one of the 2020 candidates, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), said in a statement.
Another presidential contender, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said it is politically savvy to set a seemingly aspirational goal, as President John F. Kennedy did when he called for sending a man to the moon.
“We don’t know if we can get to net-zero carbon emissions in 10 years, but we should certainly try,” Gillibrand said at a pro-Green New Deal news conference in front of the Capitol. “Why not let this be a measure of how great we are as a nation?”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday that McConnell’s “stunt is backfiring” and that it was becoming clear that “the Republican Party is way behind the times on clean energy.”
“I heard talk here about floods in the Middle West,” Schumer said, speaking shortly after Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) raised the issue at the Senate GOP news conference. “To not do something about climate change when you know your communities are being hurt by it is so badly representing the voters of your state.”
An Ernst spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what the senator would like to see done to address the issue.
The main Senate sponsor of the Green New Deal, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), was unapologetic about the broad scope of his proposal. “It is the national-security, economic, health-care and moral issue of our time,” he said at Tuesday’s press event.
But a chorus of detractors, including some Democrats, have argued that the sweeping resolution contained many items only tangentially related to reducing climate-warming emissions or addressing their impacts.
Others said the goal of drastically curbing the release of the heat-trapping gases across U.S. electricity, manufacturing, transportation and agricultural sectors within just 10 years is impossible to achieve.
Among them is former Colorado governor and 2020 Democratic presidential aspirant John Hickenlooper, who said in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Washington Post that the vision being pushed by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey has “laudable aims but also take an approach that limits our prospects for success.”
“The resolution sets unachievable goals,” Hickenlooper said. “We do not yet have the technology needed to reach ‘net-zero greenhouse gas emissions’ in 10 years. That’s why many wind and solar companies don’t support it.”
Ernest Moniz, President Barack Obama’s energy secretary, has also criticized the idea of an all-renewable energy economy by 2030 as “just unrealistic.”
“And putting forward unrealistic goals in my view may impede our progress if it starts to leave behind key constituencies,” Moniz said last month on the day the Green New Deal was introduced.
A panel of U.N. scientists says the world has about 10 years to rein in emissions and keep the global temperature increase to moderate levels.
One irony of the Green New Deal proposal is that it is forcing some Republicans to put forward their own climate proposals after being led for two years by Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that humans are warming the world.