Republicans now hold 35 of the 40 Senate seats in the 20 states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic activity, which are mostly heartland states that are large energy producers, large manufacturers, or both, according to government figures. Republicans also hold 12 of the 20 Senate seats from the next 10 states that emit the most carbon per dollar. Democrats control 34 of the 40 seats from the 20 lowest-emitting states, most of which are coastal and have transitioned toward a greater reliance on renewable power. But once again, the Republican strength in the higher-emitting states gives the party the numbers to filibuster almost any climate initiative.
Immigration presents the same picture. For years, polls have found that about two-thirds or more of Americans support a comprehensive plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without a criminal record, while tightening enforcement at the border. In both 2006 and 2013, Democrats attracted enough Republican votes to cross the 60-vote threshold and pass comprehensive immigration reform. (Each time, the GOP-controlled House refused to consider the measure.) But after Donald Trump’s success at making the GOP more nativist, it’s not clear that enough Republicans would again join a narrow Democratic majority in 2021 to pass such legislation.
That’s especially true because, when it comes to immigration, once again, Republicans overwhelmingly represent the parts of America least touched by change. Forty-five of the 53 Republican senators represent the 30 states with the smallest share of foreign-born residents in their population, according to census figures. Democrats hold 32 of the 40 seats in the 20 states with the highest share of immigrants. And among those few Republicans in high-immigrant states, GOP senators in Arizona and Colorado, and more distantly Texas, will be among the Democrats’ top targets in 2020.
The tensions on these issues would be compounded for a Democratic Senate majority come 2021 because they largely align the same states on each side of the divide. Of the 30 states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic activity, 26 also rank in the bottom 30 for immigrant population. Twenty-three of the high-carbon states also rank in the top 29 for gun ownership.
In all, 20 states meet each of these thresholds as high-carbon, low-immigrant, and high-gun places: Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alaska.
Of the 40 Senate seats across these states, Republicans now hold 36 of them, which comes close to the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster on any of these issues. Republicans also hold all four Senate seats in two other solidly GOP states that meet the criteria for low immigration and high carbon output, but not high gun ownership—Nebraska and Missouri. At that point, Republicans from the states least touched by change would need only a single vote from any other senator to reach the 41-vote threshold required to sustain a filibuster. That means that even if Democrats recapture unified control of government, they face the real threat that the same states, many of them smaller and disproportionately white and Christian, could block almost all of their goals—even though these 22 states contain only about 70 million people, only about one-fifth of the national population.