Of all the pressing business McConnell could be tackling, he devoted precious floor time to the resolution introduced last month by Democrats Ed Markey, the junior senator from Massachusetts, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a House freshman from New York. A grand reimagining of America’s environmental and economic landscape, the Green New Deal is not a policy proposal. It is a statement of values — a nonbinding resolution that even its champions do not expect to become law. Ocasio-Cortez has called it “a vision document.”
Which is precisely why McConnell couldn’t resist it.
The Senate majority leader, like so much of his party, has zero interest in climate change — or rather, he has no interest in pursuing policies to address what many regard as the defining crisis of our time. McConnell is, however, passionate about making life politically awkward for the opposition. With their base voters fired up about climate change, dozens of Democratic lawmakers have embraced the Green New Deal, including at least half a dozen 2020 presidential contenders. Even so, the resolution’s sweeping ambitions — built around a huge infrastructure investment and a shift to carbon-free energy — strike more than a few Democrats, especially moderates, as unrealistic and politically perilous.
Republicans have been quick to mock the proposal, claiming that Democrats are poised to outlaw everything from cars to cows to airplanes. McConnell has been particularly vicious, slamming it as a “destructive socialist daydream.”
McConnell sought to raise the stakes on Tuesday by forcing Democrats to cast a vote on the controversial measure — exacerbating intraparty tensions in the process.
The ploy fell flat. Most Democrats agreed ahead of time to go with a noncommittal vote of “present,” thus denying McConnell his desired drama and any meaningful vote count.
Republicans are sure to continue harping on the Green New Deal as a way to paint Democrats as out-of-touch extremists. As Sen. James Inhofe, a proud climate-change denier from Oklahoma, crowed, “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
While Inhofe and President Donald Trump may not believe in climate change, a growing majority of Americans care about it a great deal. In its latest survey, conducted in December, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that just shy of 60 percent of Americans are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about the issue, with the number of those “alarmed” — 29 percent — having doubled since 2013 and risen 8 points in just the past year. The numbers of “dismissive” and “doubtful” respondents have sunk to 9 percent each.
Outside the bubble of the Republican base, McConnell’s political stunt may strike many people as shameless, coming as it did as the Midwest was being swallowed up by floodwaters. While the role that climate change plays in any particular natural disaster is complicated, there is widespread scientific agreement that the phenomenon is fueling a pattern of ever more extreme weather, from historic floods to hurricanes to droughts.
The Green New Deal is by no means a fully baked proposal for combating climate change. But for all its flaws, it is a more promising first step than the Republican leaders’ chosen strategy of inaction and sneering denial.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.