Tom Steyer just sent Hillary Clinton a message: I'm getting impatient.
The deep-pocketed Democratic donor who has pushed President Obama and Hillary Clinton on environmental issues took advantage of Pope Francis's climate-change encyclical to call on the next president to act on global warming. And he effusively praised Martin O'Malley for taking the lead.
Steyer thanked O'Malley, the long-shot Democratic 2016 contender, for urging the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and spelling out a detailed plan of action to confront Earth's rising temperatures. In doing so, Steyer created a clear contrast between O'Malley and Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner who has yet to take a position on the controversial pipeline and so far has not laid out nearly as detailed a vision for fighting global warming.
"Today, Pope Francis issued a powerful and inspirational encyclical on climate change—and I'm happy to see that many of our leaders are already heeding his call to action," Steyer's statement read.
Citing O'Malley's environmental plan, which calls for rejecting Keystone, Steyer added: "This is exactly the type of leadership on climate change the pope, military and business leaders are calling for—and that we need from our next president."
The politics of Steyer's statement are unmistakable. During the 2014 midterm elections, the environmental billionaire spent more than $69 million in a bid to elect Democrats with a strong record on climate. That was enough money to make Steyer that cycle's most generous public donor.
All that cash didn't translate into as many midterm wins as Steyer and his allies had hoped, but the financier-turned-environmentalist has made clear that he plans to keep playing a major role in Democratic politics. Steyer hosted a fundraiser for Clinton at his San Francisco home last month.
On Friday, "Tom Steyer is hosting President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for a climate change fundraiser where business leaders, progressive allies, and other climate-focused donors are looking forward to hearing plans to curb carbon pollution through job-creating clean energy policies" a source close to Steyer said. "Tom is focused on bringing climate change to the forefront of the political discussion in 2016, and will continue to host climate-focused fundraisers as part of his commitment to standing with leaders who demonstrate bold leadership for achieving a healthier and more prosperous clean energy future for our children and the next generation,"
Steyer wasn't the only one to seize on the pope's green message. From Obama on down, seemingly everyone involved in the climate debate rushed to use the pope's words to double down on their own political agenda.
"As Pope Francis so eloquently stated this morning, we have a profound responsibility to protect our children, and our children's children, from the damaging impacts of climate change. I believe the United States must be a leader in this effort, which is why I am committed to taking bold actions at home and abroad to cut carbon pollution," Obama said in a statement, drawing a parallel between the administration's efforts to establish a legacy on climate change and Pope Francis's appeal for climate action.
American Bridge—a liberal opposition research group—attempted to link criticism of the encyclical to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. Steyer's green group NextGen Climate also released a digital ad suggesting that any elected official who fails to heed the pope's global warming warning is in the pocket of the Koch brothers.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the administration, 2016 contenders, donors, lawmakers, interest groups, and even opposition researchers jumped on the Vatican statement to advance an agenda. The Vatican's message created a powerful opening for conversation on Thursday—a fact surely not lost on Washington's political operatives. When the pope speaks, people listen. As rarely released and authoritative statements from the Catholic Church, encyclicals carry considerable weight in their own right.
Setting that window of opportunity aside, climate change remains a highly polarizing issue. It would be a tall order for anyone—even Francis—to erase the political fault lines that define America's current climate debate in an instant.
O'Malley used the encyclical as a springboard to outline the climate and energy platform that Steyer praised. Aside from rejecting Keystone, it calls for obtaining 100 percent of the nation's electricity from clean energy by 2050, expanding EPA's carbon emissions rules for power plants to include other big industrial pollution sources, and denying new permits for drilling in Alaska and off America's coast.
And it wasn't just the Left that seized on the encyclical to make a political point.
Jim Inhofe, the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of Congress' most notorious climate skeptics, voiced concern that the encyclical "will be used by global-warming alarmists to advocate for policies that will equate to the largest, most regressive tax increase in our nation's history."
"Energy is a lifeblood of the modern world, and we cannot ignore that efficient, cost-effective electricity is a means to sufficient healthcare, employment opportunities, agriculture production, and vitality of life," Inhofe said.
Ben Geman contributed to this article
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