Democratic National Committee delegates in San Francisco voted against allowing candidates to participate in a primary debate focused on climate change, per the Mercury News, in a contentious 222-137 vote that comes amid ongoing devastation in the Amazon rainforest and growing evidence that scientists have underestimated the pace at which the world is warming.
Top DNC officials shot down the idea of holding an official climate debate earlier this week. This vote was separate and decided whether the party would change its rules to allow the candidates to participate in an unsanctioned, third-party debate without risking consequences. Protesters interrupted the meeting, shouting “We can’t wait” and “Failure of leadership,” according to the Mercury News.
DNC chair Tom Perez was among those leading the charge against the resolution, arguing that it was unfair to elevate one issue over others, while he and others in the DNC fretted that it would open the door for myriad progressive causes to demand their own single-issue debates or sap campaigns of time and resources that could be better devoted to campaigning. As the Mercury News noted, there will be two separate CNN and MSNBC presidential forums next month offering candidates the chance to explain their platforms, but those events will offer no opportunity for the candidates to challenge each other on their proposals directly. (While the CNN one is exclusive to Democrats, the MSNBC one is technically open to all candidates, though it seems pretty unlikely Donald Trump is interested in participating.)
Per the Mercury News:
On Saturday, the battle focused on a resolution that would allow the presidential contenders to participate in a climate debate “with the candidates appearing on the same stage, engaging one another in discussion.” Perez moved to scrap that proposal Saturday, saying the party should preserve rules prohibiting candidates from participating in unsanctioned debates.
“We want to make sure we don’t change the rules in the middle of the process,” he said. “We have a north star principle: We want to be fair to everyone.”
… “It will take away time from their knocking on doors, going to all of your states to be able to campaign,” insisted Maria Cardona, a political strategist and DNC member from Washington, D.C.
“What do we say to the other 30 groups asking for these?” a DNC delegate from Florida Craig Smith told the Mercury News earlier this week. “We’re picking something out of the air.”
All leading candidates supported holding such a debate, which was championed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who dropped out this week. However, in prior debates, former Vice President Joe Biden (currently leading in the polls, but facing a possible enthusiasm gap) has had his bona fides on climate policy challenged by other candidates and environmental organizations.
One of Biden’s senior advisers, DNC member Symone Sanders, recently said she did not support a climate debate and changing the rules to allow one would be “dangerous territory in the middle of a democratic primary process.” That called Biden’s continued support into question, though, as the Mercury News noted, Sanders later said she was speaking for herself and not for the campaign.
More broadly, the internal back-and-forth on the matter within the DNC was tinted by memories of 2016, when progressive factions of the party accused leadership of trying to insulate then-candidate Hillary Clinton from criticism. According to BuzzFeed News, young climate activists with the Sunrise Movement camped out in front of the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C. in June and held protests outside DNC offices nationwide, while many supporters of the idea were in attendance at the meeting on Saturday.
In an emailed statement to Gizmodo, the coalition of organizations pushing the debate—CREDO Action, Sunrise Movement, Climate Hawks Vote, Greenpeace USA, NextGen America, Bold Alliance, and Friends of the Earth Action—argued that Perez had terminated the idea because it wasn’t “politically expedient.”
“Tom Perez just killed a climate debate by undermining the DNC’s own system and bypassing the will of the more than half a million grassroots activists, more than 100 DNC members in San Francisco, and most of the Democratic presidential candidates,” the coalition wrote. “There are many DNC members from across the country who believe in listening to the grassroots and engaging in a transparent, democratic process. But Tom Perez made it clear today that he is not one of them.”
“Our coalition has worked tirelessly within the DNC rules to get a climate debate, but Tom Perez decided it wasn’t politically expedient to have Democrats discuss their solutions for our climate crisis on the same national stage as one another,” the coalition added. “Our entire future is at stake, but Tom Perez just swept aside the climate crisis for someone else to solve. That isn’t leadership. That isn’t normal order. That isn’t what it means to be a Democrat.”