Jim Inhofe, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio Just Voted To Say Climate Change Is Real

Senate Armed Service Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) talks with reporters.
National Journal
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Jason Plautz
Jan. 21, 2015, 12:38 p.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans voted Wed­nes­day to say cli­mate change was real. But they won’t say that it’s the fault of hu­mans.

In the first floor vote on the facts of cli­mate sci­ence in years, Demo­crats had hoped to pin their Re­pub­lic­ans col­leagues on the real­ity of cli­mate change and hu­man’s con­tri­bu­tion with amend­ment votes on the Key­stone XL pipeline. But this be­ing the Sen­ate, noth­ing went ex­actly as planned.

An amend­ment from Sen. Shel­don White­house, D-R.I., that stated that cli­mate change is real and not a hoax passed with an astound­ing 98-1 tally. Even more astound­ing was that Re­pub­lic­an Jim In­hofe, the En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee chair who rel­ishes chal­len­ging cli­mate sci­ent­ists at every turn, signed on as a co­spon­sor.

Why? The amend­ment didn’t cla­ri­fy that cli­mate change is man­made.

“The cli­mate is chan­ging”¦ it will al­ways change,” In­hofe said on the floor. “The hoax is that there are some people so ar­rog­ant that they are so power­ful they think they can change the cli­mate. Man can’t change cli­mate.”

The over­whelm­ing opin­ion of the sci­entif­ic com­munity is that hu­mans’ burn­ing of fossil fuels is sig­ni­fic­antly con­trib­ut­ing to the rise in the Earth’s tem­per­at­ures.

In the end, only Mis­sis­sippi Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Ro­ger Wick­er voted against the amend­ment.

Demo­crats brought up a second amend­ment from Hawaii’s Bri­an Schatz, which said that cli­mate change was real and that hu­mans were sig­ni­fic­antly con­trib­ut­ing, tak­ing lan­guage from the En­vir­on­ment­al Im­pact State­ment on the Key­stone XL pipeline. Re­pub­lic­ans turned against that one, de­feat­ing it by a 50-49 vote. Amend­ments were sub­ject to a 60-vote threshold.

Re­pub­lic­an Lisa Murkowski of Alaska urged her col­leagues to vote down the amend­ment for one spe­cif­ic reas­on: the amend­ment says that hu­man activ­ity “sig­ni­fic­antly” con­trib­utes to cli­mate change. That word was a mat­ter of “de­grees,” she said on the floor.

“The in­clu­sion of that word is suf­fi­cient to mer­it a no vote,” she said.

That’s the one that’s go­ing to emerge as the cru­cial cli­mate change sci­ence vote, be­cause it fol­lows the sci­entif­ic con­sensus. Shortly after the vote, en­vir­on­ment­al groups were slam­ming the Sen­ate for re­ject­ing cli­mate sci­ence, with En­vir­on­ment Amer­ica dir­ect­or Anna Aurilio say­ing it was “dumb­found­ing that sen­ate lead­ers are ig­nor­ing the truth on cata­stroph­ic cli­mate change to push the agenda of big pol­luters.”

Sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans did cross over to vote for the amend­ment: Lamar Al­ex­an­der of Ten­ness­ee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hamp­shire, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine and Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Car­o­lina.

Ayotte and Kirk both face re-elec­tion battles in 2016 in mod­er­ate states, where cli­mate change is likely to be a wedge is­sue.

Also up for de­bate Wed­nes­day was a Re­pub­lic­an amend­ment from John Ho­even, which was pitched as an al­tern­at­ive to the Demo­crat­ic ones. His amend­ment quotes from the State

De­part­ment re­port on the pipeline, say­ing it would have less of a green­house gas im­pact than al­tern­at­ives and that the tar sands oil would be used re­gard­less.

It was later amended to add lan­guage that said “cli­mate change is real and hu­man activ­ity con­trib­utes to cli­mate change,” al­though a prin­ted copy of the amend­ment shows that the word “sig­ni­fic­antly” was crossed out be­fore it reached the Sen­ate desk.

That one failed 59-40, with Ho­even cast­ing the de­cid­ing vote that left it short of 60. Ho­even spokes­man Don Can­ton said the Sen­at­or re­versed course on his own amend­ment in or­der to keep the Schatz amend­ment off of it and to keep the man­made cli­mate change lan­guage off the fi­nal bill. Al­though a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans — in­clud­ing Ken­tucky’s Rand Paul, Montana’s Mike Rounds and Ari­zona’s Jeff Flake — voted for the amend­ment, Can­ton said that “we would have lost some of our mem­bers” with the cli­mate change lan­guage at­tached.

On the floor ahead of the votes, Gra­ham said that he does be­lieve in cli­mate change, but called the Demo­crat­ic amend­ments “tricks” and “gim­micks” that hurt en­vir­on­ment­al­ists’ cause.

“I don’t know how you can jus­ti­fy vot­ing against the Key­stone pipeline based on a con­cern about cli­mate change be­cause it has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with the is­sue in that re­gard,” he said.

After the vote, Schatz was op­tim­ist­ic and told re­port­ers that Demo­crats had “made good pro­gress today.”

“There is an emer­ging group of people who be­lieve that cli­mate change is real and caused by hu­mans and solv­able,” he said. “It is a little sad that we had to work so hard to get to that point, be­cause I think the Amer­ic­an people un­der­stand that this prob­lem is ur­gent and real, but today was a good day and a sur­pris­ingly pro­duct­ive day on the cli­mate de­bate.”

Sen. Bar­bara Box­er like­wise said, “This is un­fold­ing ex­actly the way a lot of us wanted be­cause we wanted to have, fi­nally, a de­bate and see where chips fall, and where the chips fall is we’re mak­ing pro­gress.”

It’s not the end of the road — In­de­pend­ent Bernie Sanders brought up his own cli­mate change amend­ment, which says cli­mate change is real, caused by hu­mans and that there is a win­dow to ad­dress it. That’s ex­pec­ted to come up for a vote to­mor­row.

Mod­er­ate Demo­crat Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia, a co­spon­sor of the Key­stone bill, has ob­jec­ted to a line in that amend­ment that calls for a trans­ition to a clean en­ergy eco­nomy, say­ing it does not leave room for fossil fuels. That could of­fer Re­pub­lic­ans and coal-state Demo­crats an­oth­er out on the amend­ment.

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