House Republicans said that climate change is real and not a hoax on Wednesday.
As part of legislation the House passed authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, the Senate attached an amendment declaring that climate change exists. The amendment passed easily, with 241 Republicans supporting it.
Democrats were quick to gloat, calling the vote a major step forward for the GOP, a party that has been reluctant to accept the scientific consensus that global warming is real and caused by human activity.
But House Republicans were hardly wringing their hands over the amendment. And several high-profile members of the GOP told National Journal that the vote didn't mean much.
"I just think it's silly," Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois said when asked if the amendment forced a difficult vote. "Democrats wanted to have us vote on this, but I seriously doubt that any Republicans would feel like they're put in a tough spot by this."
Republicans downplayed the significance of the climate vote, in part, because the amendment is silent on the causes of climate change, making it easy for conservatives to vote "yes" without courting controversy.
There is now near-unanimous consent among members of the GOP that the climate is changing. What Republicans do not agree on is whether human activity has caused that change and what, if anything, should be done to address a warming planet.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island originally sponsored the climate amendment, which saw a vote in the Senate last month. Whitehouse and other Democrats hoped to put Republicans on the record on a contentious issue in the midst of debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. But Republicans upended that plan when GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe, Washington's most famous climate denier, signed on as a co-sponsor of the amendment at the eleventh hour.
Inhofe said that he backed the amendment because the climate is always changing, adding that the only "hoax" is the idea that human activity can change the temperature of the planet at all.
Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said he agrees with Inhofe and wasn't worried about casting a vote for the climate amendment.
"The question is not if the climate changing. The climate is always changing. The question is: is the primary agent man-made, and my answer is it's not," Barton said in an interview.
Barton appeared to be unaware that the climate amendment had even been added to the broader legislation aimed at approving the Keystone pipeline.
But when asked if he thought Republicans were anxious over the vote, Barton said: "No, I don't think there is any controversy here."
Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, similarly said he did not think much of the amendment and indicated that he would support it.
"I don't expect anyone to change their vote because of this," Upton said, adding: "If Democrats say that they got a win on this, that's not true."
Republican skepticism did not stop at least one House Democrat from declaring victory, however.
"By voting for this bill today, you are going to endorse language saying climate change is real and not a hoax. I think that's tremendous progress for the Republican side of the aisle who I expect will be supporting this bill to accept the reality of climate change, and I'm thrilled that's in there and their votes will be reflected in the record as endorsing that language," Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon said on the House floor ahead of the final vote.
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