DNC Chair's Latest Resolution Could Torpedo Climate Debate Push, Activists Fear

The resolution praises the unofficial climate forums MSNBC and CNN promised to host, but makes no mention of an official DNC debate.

Democratic National Committee chief Tom Perez has proposed a resolution on the climate crisis that activists fear could be an attempt to undermine the push for a presidential primary debate devoted entirely to global warming.

The proposal, titled “Resolution Recommitting the Democratic Party to the Work of Combating Climate Change and Creating Jobs by Growing our Clean Energy Economy,” makes nine general points mostly about the threat posed by global warming and the Trump administration’s denial of the science. HuffPost obtained a copy of the resolution from a DNC insider.

But the final clause praises Democratic presidential contenders for “demonstrating their commitment to tackling the issue of climate change, having already scheduled two televised forums on CNN and MSNBC to discuss the issue, and debating the issue during each of the DNC-sanctioned presidential primary debates.”

That, say activists, appears to provide cover to the DNC to reject a resolution calling for an official debate on the climate crisis. The DNC is expected to consider proposals for a climate debate and a party-sanctioned forum later this month.

“This is a move by Tom Perez to try to kill climate debates ahead of the convention,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which is pushing for a climate debate. “He knows that the base and nearly all presidential candidates support a climate debate. The only way he can stop this is through insider game tactics.”

R.L. Miller, Democratic activist and president of the political action committee Climate Hawks Vote, said the resolution an attempt to “go backwards” and “treat the climate debate as nothing more than pretty words.”

“The key to reading a resolution is to ignore all the ‘whereas’ clauses as nothing more than pretty words and read only the ‘therefore’ clause,” Miller said. “What he’s done is relegated the climate debate issue to a ‘whereas’ clause to downplay it.”

The DNC said that interpretation is wrong, and that plans to consider a resolution on a climate debate haven’t changed.

“This is [a] resolution discussing the importance of combating climate change,” David Bergstein, a DNC spokesman, said by email. “There are multiple other resolutions that address a climate change debate or forum. They’ll all be discussed at the meeting later this month.”

DNC Chair Tom Perez speaks to the audience attending the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on July 31.
DNC Chair Tom Perez speaks to the audience attending the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on July 31.
Scott Olson via Getty Images

The saga began months ago, when activists started an online petition calling on the DNC to host a debate devoted entirely to climate change. The DNC swiftly rejected the proposal.

Democratic presidential hopeful Jay Inslee, running as the climate candidate, championed the cause and rallied more than a dozen rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), behind him. In June, a poll found 64% of Democratic-leaning voters supported the idea.

That same month, Perez published a Medium post defending the DNC’s opposition to a climate debate by arguing such an event would unfairly favor Inslee. But some posited that the DNC feared a full-on climate debate would disadvantage moderate candidates and force a discussion about fossil fuels that might risk making it easy for President Donald Trump to win coal- and gas-producing states like Pennsylvania again. The DNC said candidates were free to “participate in as many forums as they’d like.”

But pressure to host a sanctioned event on the crisis mounted after climate change took up just 15 minutes of the first four hours of June’s debates. In a sign it was budging on the issue, the DNC voted unanimously to refer two resolutions ― one calling for a climate debate, the other proposing a less formal forum ― to an official committee expected to recommend action of some kind at a party convention in August.

Since then, the publications Gizmodo and The New Republic offered to host a climate forum. After drama over a story the latter magazine published and later retracted threw the effort into disarray, CNN and MSNBC each announced plans to host their own town-hall forums.

Even then, activists worried the forums might preclude an official DNC climate debate. Absent the DNC’s explicit blessing, candidates could be less likely to participate. Worse yet, advocates feared, the existence of an unofficial event could give the DNC cover to kibosh the debate resolution.

“If Perez was serious about addressing our climate crisis, he would support a meaningful debate about climate change with the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates,” Jelani Drew-Davi, a campaign manager at the advocacy group CREDO Action, said in a statement. “The town halls by CNN and MSNBC and one-off questions in general debates won’t educate voters on the candidates’ solutions.”

This story was updated to include comment from the DNC.

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