Well, it looks like newly-elected progressive lawmakers are getting what they have asked for – and they’re none too happy about it. Incoming representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) have repeatedly called for the formation of a House select committee to address climate change. Democratic leadership in the House have agreed – sort of.
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is predicted to become the next Speaker of the House, recently announced that the committee would be formed and will be named the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis. Never let it be said that the Democrats do not have a flair for the dramatic. Pelosi also stated that the committee would be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). “She will bring great experience, energy and urgency to the existential threat of the climate crisis,” Pelosi said, as a dramatic John-Williams-esque funeral dirge played in the background.
Never let it be said that the Democrats do not have a flair for the dramatic.
Okay, there was no music during the announcement, but judging by the name of the new committee, one might conclude that Democrats are taking this new group of intrepid lawmakers seriously. Surprisingly, this does not appear to be the case.
New Climate Change Committee
Castor has stated that this new panel will take components from the Green New Deal, a plan championed by newly-elected progressives, and which recommends drastic changes in order to reduce carbon emissions. The draft proposal’s suggestions include:
- Expanding existing renewable power sources and implanting new methods to ensure that 100% of national power demand is fulfilled through renewable sources.
- Upgrading every residential and industrial building to include “state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.”
- Creating an “energy-efficient, ‘smart grid.’”
- Investing funds in the “drawdown of greenhouse gases.”
The full proposal has not yet been fleshed out, but it is clear that those who support the initiative wish to completely transform the way American society consumes energy.
However, much to the disappointment of Tlaib, Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, and others, the committee will not have all the powers for which they have asked. For instance, the panel will not have the authority to issue subpoenas or pass bills to the floor for a full House vote. Progressive lawmakers previously asked that members of the committee be required to refuse any political contributions from fossil fuel companies. Castor rejected this suggestion, arguing that it would violate the First Amendment.
Progressive Lawmakers Balk
You can already guess what happened next. Progressives slammed Pelosi and the establishment Democratic leadership for essentially creating a group that does not have the power to effect any meaningful change. Corbin Trent, spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, said, “This committee, if it turns out that the rumors about it are true, sounds about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.”
He also excoriated senior Democrats for their refusal to comply with the plan. “Leadership in general is about listening to the voices of the people you’re supposed to be leading and I don’t believe this process incorporated that very effectively,” he said.
Another advocate for the Green New Deal, Rep. Rohit Khanna (D-CA), also criticized the Democratic leadership, saying their decision was “disappointing,” and indicating that the new lawmakers have more influence than one would think. “These freshmen are clearly the most connected to the grassroots of our party – their social media presence speaks to their extraordinary reach in our base,” he said. “So empowering them is showing our grassroots supporters that we are hearing their voices.”
Some Democratic leaders have expressed doubts about the new committee, arguing that its activities would overlap with those of other panels. Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), ranking members on the House Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees respectively, stated that they would only support the Green New Deal as long as it had no legislative power. A senior Democratic aide told The Hill: “The Green New Deal gets into things that are completely unrelated to climate so it was always an unworkable construct.”
Early Signs of Infighting?
Since the midterm elections in which the Democrats regained control of the House, there have been rumblings of a conflict between the old guard of the party represented by Nancy Pelosi, and the new blood, represented by Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib. Indeed, some of these younger representatives have already made a splash by publicly clashing with Pelosi.
Some have cautioned the younger leaders to refrain from bucking against the establishment, while others have appreciated these upstarts’ willingness to challenge authority. Either way, it seems that the Democratic Party isn’t quite as united as they might want others to think. But will it matter? Even if two factions are warring for control of the Democratic Party, both groups surely have a common objective: obstructing the conservative agenda.