NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, May 31st, 2019

Senators call on NBC to make climate justice the focus of the first presidential debate

Three Democratic U.S. Senators have released a letter calling on NBC News to make climate justice the focus of the first presidential primary debate.

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) presented NBC’s News Chairman, Andy Lack, with two strong arguments for their recommendations: firstly, polling among young voters shows their huge concern about the issue, and secondly, the impacts of climate change are being felt across the country in the same way that healthcare and economic issues are.

“According to a recent national poll, nearly all Democratic voters – 96 percent – named climate change as a top issue when choosing a presidential candidate for 2020. In a poll of young voters, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats view climate change as a problem, including a clear majority of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats. They are looking for a candidate who will take meaningful action, and currently 73 percent of young voters disapprove of the approach Donald Trump has taken on climate change,” the letter says.

“This should not be surprising,” the Senators add.

“The impacts of climate change are happening now — from wildfires in California, to flooding in the Midwest, to sea level rise on the coasts. It is an issue that is impacting people’s daily lives and endangering their future safety and prosperity. It is as real as their concerns about health care and the economy, and people deserve to hear how their potential candidates will address this problem.”

These three senators are only the latest in a series of actors to call for a climate focused debate to show voters where all the candidates stand on the issue.

In the middle of last month, Washington’s governor Jay Inslee (who is running on an entirely climate-focused platform) called for a climate focused debate.

In an email to his supporters, Inslee wrote:

“This can’t be a one-off question where candidates get to give a soundbite and move on: Climate [justice] is at the heart of every issue that matters to voters, and voters deserve to hear what 2020 presidential candidates plan to do about it.”

Kirsten Gillibrand – the junior United States Senator from New York who is also running for president – endorsed Inslee’s call, comparing the climate challenge to President Kennedy’s “moonshot” in the 1960s.

As well as elected representatives, many activists are calling for the Democrats to tell voters about their plans for addressing and reversing climate damage.

Students on strike for the climate

Youth holding signs at the School Strike on Friday at the National Mall in support of taking action to reverse climate damage (Photo: Earth and Main, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

The Sunrise Movement – a youth-led political movement that gained national attention when activists protested outside Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office – has called for massive youth mobilization in Detroit at the end of July to coincide with the second Democratic debate.

The Sunrise Movement has three demands for presidential candidates:

  • that they sign the no fossil fuel money pledge;
  • that they make the Green New Deal a day-one policy priority if elected;
  • and lastly that they all commit to a presidential debate on climate justice.

As more and more Democratic candidates sign onto the Green New Deal or versions thereof, and as the Party leadership has become increasingly assertive about the management of their debates (they recently rejected Fox’s bid to host a debate, deciding that the far-right network couldn’t be trusted), it seems like a safe bet that we will be seeing the over 20 candidates set out their vision for the USA’s reaction to the global issue of climate change.

The first Democratic presidential debate will be held in Miami over two nights, June 26th and 27th. On both nights the debate will start at 9 PM Eastern and can be viewed for free on nbcnews.com, msnbc.com and Telemundo’s online services.

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