Democrats Divided on Climate Change

Ideological split on full display over two days of Senate failures.

Senate Democrats hoped to embarrass Republicans this week by making them vote that climate change wasn't real. Instead, Democrats exposed the fact they are divided on how to respond to the threat of global warming.

Amid debate on the Keystone XL pipeline Thursday, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with Democrats, and Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat hailing from coal-rich West Virginia, offered up nearly identical amendments declaring that man-made climate change exists and "has already caused devastating problems in the U.S. and around the world."

But one major difference demonstrated the ideological divide among Democrats: the future of coal and other fossil fuels.

After highlighting the threat of climate change, the Sanders amendment called on the U.S. to transition from using fossil fuels and ramp up renewable energy.

The Manchin amendment, on the other hand, proclaimed that fossil fuels will continue to be used for decades to come and urged the U.S. to invest in technology to make fossil-fuel energy cleaner.

Neither amendment came to a direct vote after the Senate approved a motion to table both measures. But the divide among Democrats over how to tackle global warming was still on full display.

"I'm glad that we can all agree that climate change is a major threat but we do not agree about what to do next," Sanders told National Journal, adding that he could not support the Manchin language.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday that he attempted to amend the Manchin amendment during a caucus lunch, saying that he "did not love" its call to invest in technology that would boost the use of fossil fuels.

The amendment split came one day after Republicans upended a vote on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a self-described climate hawk, that said climate change is real and not a hoax.

Democrats expected that Republicans would emerge from the vote looking like climate deniers. But Republicans managed to blunt the force of that climate crusade when the Senate's most famous climate denier, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., signed onto the amendment as a last-minute cosponsor.

Inhofe said that he supported the amendment because it did not say that human activity was the root cause of climate change and declared that "the climate has always changed," citing the scriptures as evidence for his claim.

That move lent Republicans political cover in voting to approve the amendment by a vote of 98-1, with Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi as the lone dissenting voice.

Inhofe was quick to cast the vote as a show of Republican unity. "Virtually all the Republicans supported" the amendment, Inhofe noted in a floor speech on Thursday. "I'm very happy that we were able to get that out so that [the vote] cannot be used in a way that was ... deceptive to the public," he added.

Despite the Democratic split, Schatz said he understood Manchin's stance and expressed optimism that Democrats will continue to find common ground.

"I think as long as people can see that climate change is real and caused by human activity then there is still some momentum," Schatz said. "I think we're making incremental progress."