Elizabeth Warren Zeroes In On Climate Change Ahead Of Next Debate

The Massachusetts senator picked up an endorsement from a key figure in the Green New Deal movement just before the debate in Los Angeles.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has already proposed a suite of policy ideas to dramatically slash planet-heating emissions and transition workers into clean industries.

But the Massachusetts senator’s campaign is ramping up its focus on the climate crisis ahead of Thursday night’s debate in Los Angeles, where wildfires forced more than 40,000 to flee their homes less than two months ago.

Last week, Warren unveiled her “Blue New Deal,” the first comprehensive campaign proposal to revitalize coastal economies by fortifying ports, spurring new markets for seafood and completely overhauling the offshore energy industry. On Wednesday, she published an op-ed outlining how she’d target fossil fuel companies and reverse President Donald Trump’s assault on environmental regulations during her first 100 days in the White House.

Then, on Thursday, the campaign announced an endorsement from Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the policy researcher who helped write the Green New Deal resolution Warren co-sponsored in the Senate in February.

“There is no dealing with climate change unless we deal with corruption,” Gunn-Wright said in a video set to be released Thursday afternoon. “Every time I read a Warren climate plan, I am confident that it can take us to a Green New Deal, because I see her thinking about: How do we use all the levers of government?”

The endorsement comes as Warren is sliding in national polls, which commentators have largely attributed to her apparent wobbling on “Medicare for All.” The loss of her brief front-runner status this fall is widely seen as aiding the surge of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on her left and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on her right.

Yet Warren’s shift on climate could position her to be more competitive against Sanders, who has made his own push on the issue over the past month and picked up major endorsements from youth activists.

Warren and Sanders have taken different approaches on climate. Warren has put out more than half a dozen individual plans to spend a combined $3 trillion on solving specific issues like spurring a green manufacturing boom and transitioning the military off fossil fuels. Sanders, by contrast, has released a $16.3 trillion megaproposal for a Green New Deal that includes everything from creating a public option for electricity to spending nearly $15 billion to encourage worker-owned grocery stores.

Yet Warren trails Sanders only slightly on climate, according to green groups’ rankings. Greenpeace graded her an A and Sanders an A+. On a scale of 200, the Sunrise Movement, the group that pushed the Green New Deal into the mainstream, scored Warren at 168 and Sanders at 183. 350 Action gave both candidates three thumbs up.

Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders participate in the November primary debate in Atlanta.
Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders participate in the November primary debate in Atlanta.
Alex Wong via Getty Images

Sanders has picked up endorsements from the teen-led U.S. Youth Climate Strike and 18-year-old activist Jamie Margolin. He’s also backed by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the star first-term Democrats who proposed the first two major pieces of Green New Deal legislation last month. (Sanders sponsored the Senate version of Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal for Public Housing bill last month).

But the starkest contrast on the issue is between the two progressive contenders and their moderate rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden and Buttigieg. Biden’s campaign is stacked with gas industry allies. Buttigieg’s climate adviser, David Victor, has been called a “fossil fuel shill” for taking research funding from an oil giant and deflecting blame from the industry.

It’s unclear how much average voters care about a candidate’s green credentials when the ability to defeat Trump, who is widely criticized as a climate change denier, is a foremost concern for Democrats and independents who lean left. Climate was the No. 2 concern after health care for Iowa caucusgoers in a Monmouth University survey from April. In California, nearly half of Democratic primary voters said climate should be the top issue for the next president, according to a Los Angeles Times poll published this month.

The trend bears out nationally. About 38% of registered voters favored a Green New Deal proposal that spends upward of $10 trillion slashing climate-changing emissions by 2030, according to an August nationwide survey commissioned by the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress. That compared to 32.5% who preferred a $1.7 trillion plan to zero out emissions by 2050 ― more in line with what Biden proposed.

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