The new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which Castor leads, will also devise its own plan to meet the Paris goal.
Democrats know this isn’t enough—and they are willing to say so. “This is a step in the right direction,” said Representative Mike Levin of California, another member of the climate-crisis committee. “There’s so much more we must do. H.R. 9 is a down payment.”
But what should Democrats do? Here it gets dicey. At the press conference on Wednesday, senators expressed a strikingly divergent set of goals for their new climate committee. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said he hoped it would attack Republicans, oil companies, and “phony baloney” climate deniers. “We are going to have fun,” he said. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, meanwhile, lauded the Republicans’ “honorable legacy” of environmental legislation. He hoped the group could set up an eventual bipartisan climate bill.
Schatz, the chair of the panel, would have to serve as “chief cat herder” on the issue, one of the members joked. And Schatz, perhaps aware of his tough mandate, refused to say whether any eventual climate bill would aim to keep global warming below a certain number of degrees, or emissions below a certain level. He promised only that Democrats would take action commensurate with the problem.
Looming over the proceedings of both houses of Congress this week was the Green New Deal, which—for all its vagueness—has generated more debate over climate policy than anything else has in years. On Tuesday, Republicans in the Senate roundly defeated the progressive resolution, 57–0. All but three Senate Democrats essentially abstained from the tally, voting only “present.” On Wednesday, Schumer thanked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for holding that vote, saying that it underlined that Democrats want to do something about climate change and Republicans don’t. (Which is true, as it goes.) But when a reporter asked Schumer whether the new committee had been founded in response to the Green New Deal, he avoided the question. Schatz then intervened, and recognized the activists indirectly: “Whenever the cause, we certainly feel like we have momentum. We have the moral high ground,” he said.
But legislators may have a harder time talking in those moral terms. Earlier in the week, dozens of activists associated with the Sunrise Movement—the youth-led group that first brought national attention to the Green New Deal—lined up outside the Capitol dome. They wore shirts with a clear, if philosophically interesting, demand: “We have a right to a GOOD JOB and a LIVABLE FUTURE.”
“The Green New Deal is more than a resolution; it is a revolution,” declared Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who sponsored the original resolution with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Markey is also on the new Democratic climate committee.) He was one of several senators to criticize McConnell. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York compared the Green New Deal to President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon led the assembled activists in cheers.