Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to say climate change was real. But they won't say that it's the fault of humans.
In the first floor vote on the facts of climate science in years, Democrats had hoped to pin their Republicans colleagues on the reality of climate change and human's contribution with amendment votes on the Keystone XL pipeline. But this being the Senate, nothing went exactly as planned.
An amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that stated that climate change is real and not a hoax passed with an astounding 98-1 tally. Even more astounding was that Republican Jim Inhofe, the Environment and Public Works Committee chair who relishes challenging climate scientists at every turn, signed on as a cosponsor.
Why? The amendment didn't clarify that climate change is manmade.
"The climate is changing"¦ it will always change," Inhofe said on the floor. "The hoax is that there are some people so arrogant that they are so powerful they think they can change the climate. Man can't change climate."
The overwhelming opinion of the scientific community is that humans' burning of fossil fuels is significantly contributing to the rise in the Earth's temperatures.
In the end, only Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker voted against the amendment.
Democrats brought up a second amendment from Hawaii's Brian Schatz, which said that climate change was real and that humans were significantly contributing, taking language from the Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans turned against that one, defeating it by a 50-49 vote. Amendments were subject to a 60-vote threshold.
Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska urged her colleagues to vote down the amendment for one specific reason: the amendment says that human activity "significantly" contributes to climate change. That word was a matter of "degrees," she said on the floor.
"The inclusion of that word is sufficient to merit a no vote," she said.
That's the one that's going to emerge as the crucial climate change science vote, because it follows the scientific consensus. Shortly after the vote, environmental groups were slamming the Senate for rejecting climate science, with Environment America director Anna Aurilio saying it was "dumbfounding that senate leaders are ignoring the truth on catastrophic climate change to push the agenda of big polluters."
Several Republicans did cross over to vote for the amendment: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Ayotte and Kirk both face re-election battles in 2016 in moderate states, where climate change is likely to be a wedge issue.
Also up for debate Wednesday was a Republican amendment from John Hoeven, which was pitched as an alternative to the Democratic ones. His amendment quotes from the State
Department report on the pipeline, saying it would have less of a greenhouse gas impact than alternatives and that the tar sands oil would be used regardless.
It was later amended to add language that said "climate change is real and human activity contributes to climate change," although a printed copy of the amendment shows that the word "significantly" was crossed out before it reached the Senate desk.
That one failed 59-40, with Hoeven casting the deciding vote that left it short of 60. Hoeven spokesman Don Canton said the Senator reversed course on his own amendment in order to keep the Schatz amendment off of it and to keep the manmade climate change language off the final bill. Although a number of Republicans -- including Kentucky's Rand Paul, Montana's Mike Rounds and Arizona's Jeff Flake -- voted for the amendment, Canton said that "we would have lost some of our members" with the climate change language attached.
On the floor ahead of the votes, Graham said that he does believe in climate change, but called the Democratic amendments "tricks" and "gimmicks" that hurt environmentalists' cause.
"I don't know how you can justify voting against the Keystone pipeline based on a concern about climate change because it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue in that regard," he said.
After the vote, Schatz was optimistic and told reporters that Democrats had "made good progress today."
"There is an emerging group of people who believe that climate change is real and caused by humans and solvable," he said. "It is a little sad that we had to work so hard to get to that point, because I think the American people understand that this problem is urgent and real, but today was a good day and a surprisingly productive day on the climate debate."
Sen. Barbara Boxer likewise said, "This is unfolding exactly the way a lot of us wanted because we wanted to have, finally, a debate and see where chips fall, and where the chips fall is we're making progress."
It's not the end of the road -- Independent Bernie Sanders brought up his own climate change amendment, which says climate change is real, caused by humans and that there is a window to address it. That's expected to come up for a vote tomorrow.
Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a cosponsor of the Keystone bill, has objected to a line in that amendment that calls for a transition to a clean energy economy, saying it does not leave room for fossil fuels. That could offer Republicans and coal-state Democrats another out on the amendment.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.