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Promise and Peril of the Green New Deal

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Lynsea Garrison, Clare Toeniskoetter and Lisa Tobin, and edited by Larissa Anderson

The controversial proposal to combat global warming and economic inequality is transforming the political calculus around climate change.

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Today: From the moment it was unveiled, it has divided Democrats and given a weapon to Republicans. The promise and the peril of the Green New Deal. It’s Thursday, March 7. Coral, where does the story of the Green New Deal begin?

coral davenport

Well, most recently, we saw it ignite on February 7.

michael barbaro

Coral Davenport covers energy and the environment for The Times.

coral davenport

The day that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has, of course, skyrocketed in celebrity, essentially, to become this iconic figure on the left, introduced — it’s called a non-binding resolution.

archived recording

Beautiful.

archived recording (alexandria ocasio-cortez)

Thank you. Thank you, senator. And thank you to all of my colleagues here that have joined us today. This is so incredible.

coral davenport

Where she came forward at this press conference on Capitol Hill this freezing cold day. She wore a green suit.

archived recording (alexandria ocasio-cortez)

And I am so incredibly excited that we are going to transition this country into the future. And we are not going to be dragged behind by our past.

coral davenport

And laid out this set of sweeping, incredibly ambitious proposals about how to both tackle climate change and solve social injustice all in one package.

archived recording (alexandria ocasio-cortez)

So thank you all very, very much.

archived recording

Excellent. Thank you, Alexandria. Now, I’d like —

michael barbaro

So how do Democrats react to this proposal from their new star freshman house colleague?

archived recording (kamala harris)

I am supporting the Green New Deal.

coral davenport

So it was amazing to see a number of the presidential candidates immediately embraced it.

archived recording

Does the Green New Deal go too far?

archived recording (bernie sanders)

No.

coral davenport

Bernie Sanders.

archived recording (bernie sanders)

You cannot go too far on the issue of climate change. The future of the planet is at stake.

coral davenport

Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand.

archived recording (kirsten gillibrand)

I support all the framework that the Green New Deal supports because —

coral davenport

Kamala Harris, Cory Booker.

archived recording (cory booker)

Our planet is in peril, and we need to be bold. It’s one of the reasons why I signed on to the resolution and co-sponsored the resolution for the Green New Deal.

coral davenport

They didn’t just embrace it. They co-sponsored it.

michael barbaro

Wow.

coral davenport

Which essentially says, we’re co-authors too.

archived recording (cory booker)

We need to push the bounds of human potential because that is our history.

coral davenport

It became clear that they could see that Representative Ocasio-Cortez had become this celebrity, had become this star, had galvanized the progressive left. And there is a tremendous eagerness, particularly on the part of the presidential candidates, to just jump right into that and harness that. They want to get that energy. And this is one of the first big policy things that she did. And so she just saw all of the — not just the progressive left, but the establishment Democrats, the more moderate Democrats, jumping on and saying, hey, this is mine too.

michael barbaro

So how much of that has to do with all these reports that say, basically, climate change is upon us. It’s here. It’s happening.

coral davenport

It has a lot to do with it. I think there are three key things that have contributed to the changing politics of climate change, Michael. One, as you said, absolutely — just in the past year or two alone, there have been major new reports that say, clearly and definitively, a lot of the extreme weather events that we are seeing now are caused by climate change. Second thing is polling shows that millennials, who will soon be the largest voting demographic — that this is an issue they care about more than almost anything else. That’s a big change. The third thing, I think, that politicians are paying attention to is President Trump. President Trump has made climate change an issue because he has elevated climate policy. He has said he’s going to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. He’s rolling back climate change regulations. He mocks climate science. So all of those present a clear way for his prospective opponents to carve out a strong position against him.

michael barbaro

So it appeared the moment was uniquely right for something like this to come along.

coral davenport

Yes.

archived recording

The Green New Deal, a six-page resolution on issues related to America’s role in global climate change —

michael barbaro

OK, so what is actually in the Green New Deal?

coral davenport

So the Green New Deal is very broad. But in terms of climate change, it says —

archived recording

The Green New Deal calls for reducing carbon emissions to zero and moving the U.S. off of fossil fuels in 10 years.

coral davenport

The entire world needs to get to zero emissions by 2050.

archived recording

It would meet 100 percent of the power demand through clean and renewable energy sources.

coral davenport

A 10-year plan to slash CO2 emissions in the United States to get to getting 100 percent of U.S. electricity from clean and renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

archived recording

Eliminating gas-powered engines, like cars, making air travel obsolete, retrofitting all existing buildings —

coral davenport

So those are the broad strokes of what it says about climate change.

michael barbaro

And all of them are wildly ambitious.

coral davenport

Those are extremely ambitious, just in terms of energy and climate policy. But it also goes way, way, way beyond that. It talks about how working to achieve these goals could create new green jobs. But it also talks about guaranteeing health care, guaranteed minimum wage, family medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security to every American.

michael barbaro

So it’s kind of a kitchen sink of liberal aspirations. It’s a little bit of everything.

coral davenport

It is a social progressive, liberal wish list, all bundled into this thing that’s supposed to be about climate change with no clear policy prescriptions on how actually to achieve any of these goals. And just to be clear, this sounds a little inside baseball, but it’s important to note this whole sweeping proposal is also not even a bill.

michael barbaro

What is it?

coral davenport

It is a non-binding resolution, which is about the weakest thing that you can bring up in Congress. It is a statement of what you want, of what you would like to have. So if it were to ever pass, it would do nothing. It would be Congress saying —

michael barbaro

This is what we wish for.

coral davenport

Yeah.

michael barbaro

Got it. So it’s a kind of manifesto, more than anything.

coral davenport

That’s a good way of putting it, yes.

michael barbaro

So given that, what is the point of this? What is the point of the Green New Deal?

coral davenport

At this point, it seems that it’s really just about trying to get the party to come together with one voice and say, we care about this. These are the goals that we have as a party — which, for this particular party, which has often been fractured and divided, is not necessarily a small thing.

michael barbaro

So what happens next?

coral davenport

So soon after this resolution gets introduced, things start falling apart. The first thing that happened was there was a huge logistical scrub. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office had sent out this sheet of talking points about what was in the package. Unfortunately, some of the things that were in the talking points actually weren’t in the package, including, for example, a guaranteed right to work for those unable or unwilling to work. And within days, you had Republicans saying, this is the best thing that’s ever happened. This is rife with targets for us.

archived recording

The only thing green about the so-called Green New Deal is how much green it’s going to cost taxpayers if these people ever pass it into law.

archived recording (speaker 1)

You know, it was “yes we can,” but I’m wondering if now, it’s “yes we can become a socialist country.” And I know —

archived recording (speaker 2)

Yeah, that’s right. This is actually not about green energy. This is really about socialism. This is nothing more than a socialist Trojan horse. That’s why they —

michael barbaro

Because the impression that’s left is that Democratic presidential candidates have signed on to something that seems to support paying people who are unwilling to work, which feels like, essentially, catnip to Fox News — to anyone in the conservative Republican world.

coral davenport

Absolutely. And Democrats are put on the defensive saying, no, no, no, I supported the bill, but I don’t support this other thing that’s a description of the bill. That’s a terrible position for them to be in. And of course, immediately, it created a backlash, not so much to climate change, but to this particular proposal.

archived recording (donald trump)

But they should stay with that argument. Never change. No planes, no energy — when the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric. Let’s hurry — darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.

michael barbaro

And what happens with moderate Democrats? How are they responding to this proposal? So some of them started backtracking and saying, well, we will also be unveiling our own climate proposals in the campaigns. So it will be different from this. So I think a lot of Democrats are saying, wait a minute, let’s find our own proposal that maybe is not quite this thing. And then it blew up even more when —

archived recording (speaker 1)

What are we doing here?

archived recording (speaker 2)

We’re standing at — we’re asking for the New Green Deal —

archived recording (speaker 3)

And we’re trying to present this letter that we’ve made to Senator Feinstein.

coral davenport

We saw these supporters of the Green New Deal confronted Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat of California, one of the older members of the Senate, very much an establishment figure, someone who’s always been considered a reliable yes vote on environmental issues, and —

archived recording (speaker 1)

Did you guys all skip school?

archived recording (speaker 2)

Yeah.

coral davenport

A group of student activists confronted her in the halls of the Senate.

archived recording

Promote the Green New Deal.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

Well, there are reasons why I can’t, because there’s no way to pay for it.

archived recording (speaker 1)

Yes, there is.

archived recording (speaker 2)

Yes, there is. That’s not true. [INTERPOSING VOICES]

archived recording

We have tons of money going to the military. Half of our — a lot ours is going to the military.

coral davenport

And Senator Feinstein kind of schooled them a little bit.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

And you just can’t go in and say, O.K., we’re going to take hundreds of millions from here and hundreds of millions from there. It just doesn’t work that way.

archived recording

But of course, our —

coral davenport

She was very realistic and pragmatic, but they flared right back up at her and said —

archived recording

But we have to come to a point where our earth is dying, literally. And it is going to be a pricey and ambitious plan that is needed to deal with the magnitude of that issue.

coral davenport

This does not represent what they want and what they need and what this generation needs at this time.

archived recording

Because that is the only way —

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

That resolution will not pass the Senate, and you can take that back to whoever sent you here and tell them.

archived recording

Why do think it won’t pass?

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

Because it doesn’t have a single Republican vote.

archived recording

But why does that stop you from voting yes? Because even if they vote — you can still vote yes, and it won’t pass, and we can draft a new plan.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

Well, I may do that. We’ll see. [INTERPOSING VOICES]

archived recording

Please vote yes.

coral davenport

And it was this very dramatic moment that seemed to pit generation against generation.

archived recording

Senator, if this doesn’t get turned around in 10 years, you’re looking at the faces of the people who are going to be living with these consequences. [INTERPOSING VOICES] The government is supposed to be for the people and by the people and all for the people.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

You know what’s interesting about this group is I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here, and you say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that.

coral davenport

And the moment went viral. It looked bad for Senator Feinstein.

archived recording

I hear what you’re saying, but we’re the people who voted you. You’re supposed to listen to us. That’s your job.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

How old are you?

archived recording

I’m 16. I can’t vote.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

Well, you didn’t vote for me. [INTERPOSING VOICES]

archived recording

It doesn’t matter. We’re going to be the ones who are impacted.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

I understand that. [INTERPOSING VOICES] I have seven grandchildren.

archived recording

— regardless of whether they voted for you or not.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

I understand it very well.

archived recording

Senator, the —

coral davenport

Even though what she was telling them was the truth — this proposal, this resolution, has no chance of passage. It’s not realistic legislation. It won’t have bipartisan support. It doesn’t make sense to put your back into something that’s never going to turn into legislation that will be enacted. But that practical message was not resonating with these passionate student protesters.

michael barbaro

Right, it looks like a politician a bit callously telling young, idealistic kids, no, I will not protect the Earth in a way that you want me to.

coral davenport

That’s how it came across.

archived recording

Senator, we know that no plan is going to pass right now while the Republicans control the Senate. This is a long game. We need to be doing this to unite the Democratic Party. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but voters haven’t been particularly energized the last couple of years. We need something to fight for. Your constituents are asking you for this. And I really believe, and tens of thousands, millions —

coral davenport

And this is at a moment where the political strategists in the party are looking at this and saying, those are the kids whose votes we need. What are we going to do about this? We don’t want them to be turned off by us in this way.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

I understand all of this. And I’m trying to do the best I can, which was to write a responsible resolution.

archived recording (speaker 1)

Any plan that doesn’t take bold transformative action is not going to be what we need.

archived recording (speaker 2)

We need your leadership.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

Well, you know better than I do. So I think one day, you should run for the Senate.

archived recording (speaker 1)

Great, I will. [INTERPOSING VOICES]

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

And then you do it your way. [INTERPOSING VOICES] In the meantime —

archived recording (speaker 3)

By that time, there’s going to be a big problem.

archived recording (speaker 4)

We have a letter for you.

archived recording (dianne feinstein)

I just won a big election.

archived recording (speaker 5)

Yeah, that was the point of coming up to —

coral davenport

So all this happens. Democrats are trying to figure out what are we going to do here. And Senator Mitch McConnell —

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

Now, Mr. President, on another matter.

coral davenport

— the Republican majority leader, who is a very smart, very savvy political operator —

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

Our nation has watched the Democratic Party take a sharp and abrupt left turn toward socialism.

coral davenport

— basically seems to smell blood in the water, and stepped up and said, hey, why don’t we just have a vote on this Green New Deal? And then all the Democrats can be on the record showing what they think of it.

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

And nothing encapsulates this as clearly as the huge, self-inflicted national wound the Democrats are agitating for called the Green New Deal.

michael barbaro

So he spots the division —

coral davenport

Absolutely.

michael barbaro

— sees the messiness, and says, what a great time to force the entire party to have to say, I want this, or I don’t want this.

coral davenport

Absolutely. And that was the real sign that the whole thing had fallen apart and was coming unraveled, when it had truly turned into a weapon of the right.

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

Let’s review a few of the greatest hits in this particular proposal. Democrats have decided every building in America needs to be either overhauled or replaced altogether. Forget about coal and all the jobs it supports in my state of Kentucky and around the country. Cars, lawnmowers, commercial airliners — everything must go. Everything must go. And by the way, all this and more, Mr. President, can be ours for the low, low price of a staggering expansion of centralized government and, wait for it, upwards of a mere $93 trillion. What a great idea. [MUSIC]

coral davenport

And at this point now, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, has advised his caucus not to vote for or against it — simply to vote “present” when it comes up on the floor. And keep in mind, on the other side of the House, where Democrats have the majority, Nancy Pelosi has absolutely no intention of bringing this to the floor, because she knows it’s a problematic vote. And in fact, when she was asked about it early on, she stumbled over its name. She seemed to be very dismissive of it. She does not seem to take it seriously.

michael barbaro

So you know you have a problem when the Republicans are eager to put a Democratic resolution on the floor of the Congress, and the Democrats are trying to avoid having their resolution put on the floor of the Congress.

coral davenport

That is a clear sign, when the opposing party can’t wait to take the thing and force you to vote on it — then yeah, things are not going well.

michael barbaro

Right. [MUSIC]

archived recording (mitch mcconnell)

The proposal is so lacking in details and math that it’s almost impossible for analysts to even know where to begin trying to connect it to the real world. So Mr. President, like any good socialist plan, I’m sure we’d hear a lot about soaking the rich.

michael barbaro

So Coral, where does this story pick back up?

coral davenport

So Senator Schumer, after getting a giant Green New Deal headache, on Wednesday morning goes on the Senate floor and starts talking about it.

archived recording (chuck schumer)

Now, Mr. President, maybe Leader McConnell doesn’t realize this, but because of the political stunt vote he’s planning on his version of Green New Deal, for the first time in a long time, the Senate is finally debating the issue of climate change. And it’s about time, if you ask me.

coral davenport

But he uses it as a moment to pivot and talk about several other new proposals.

archived recording (chuck schumer)

I understand my friends on the other side of the aisle don’t like the Green New Deal. O.K., that’s fine. What’s your plan? Maybe a lot of members think they can get away without having to answer the question. They won’t. They won’t. And that’s why we need a committee focused on this.

coral davenport

One is creation of a new Senate committee to deal with climate change.

archived recording (chuck schumer)

I will introduce a resolution to create a new committee on climate. Democrats believe this is an issue of surpassing importance. What do our Republican colleagues believe? We hope sincerely that our Republican friends will come around and view it the same way.

michael barbaro

And Coral, what’s going on exactly? What is Schumer doing here by suddenly talking about the Green New Deal and talking about the environment in such a formal, high-profile way?

coral davenport

Schumer is a politician, and so he sees that there is all of this millennial energy around the Green New Deal and around climate change. And he’s looking at the fact that people are asking questions about this when candidates go out to town halls in a way that they never have. So he wants to harness all this energy. He wants to make sure that millennials who care about climate change are still excited about Democrats and don’t think that these are fogies of yesteryear. But he wants to find a way to pivot away from the Green New Deal and come up, essentially, with a real piece of legislation that would be, probably, a lot more realistic and something that candidates could live with and that could be brought up on the Senate floor after an election.

michael barbaro

So not have climate change associated with universal health care —

coral davenport

Right.

michael barbaro

— or the possibility of paying people who aren’t working, but have it become part of the Democratic Party platform in a way that he feels is in line with where the party’s politics are.

coral davenport

Right.

archived recording (chuck schumer)

Because climate change will not wait for the partisanship that so often defines this chamber to ebb, it will not pause while one party’s in power. Its impacts will not discriminate between red states and blue states. It’s time to put our party affiliations aside and agree that we face a major crisis caused by humans, and we have an immediate and glaring need to address it.

michael barbaro

And when I think of Schumer, I think of the embodiment of the party’s middle.

coral davenport

Totally.

michael barbaro

A figure who is not a far-left figure. And so I wonder what it signals that he’s the one out there embracing this as the future of the party.

coral davenport

That is the thing that I thought was the craziest of all. He has never elevated this. He’s never talked about it. He’s never pushed on it, because it’s never been seen as a vote-getter. So to all of a sudden see Chuck Schumer go out on the floor and talk like he’s a climate evangelist is amazing. To be fair to Schumer, he said he’s a new grandfather, too. So he cares about his grandchild. But I do think he is also looking at these polls, and looking at this Feinstein video that went viral, and freaking out a little bit and thinking, well, we’ve got to strategize for the next elections.

michael barbaro

So Coral, what do we make of this? First, the Green New Deal is the hot new thing. Then it is the hot potato. But somehow it landed with Schumer standing on the Senate floor, talking about climate change in this new, powerful way for him.

coral davenport

Yeah, so at the end of the day, I’m very skeptical that the actual Green New Deal is going to be passed or put into effect. But this sudden skyrocketing to fame of the Green New Deal and Representative Ocasio-Cortez, and the rallying of the millennials, and even the pushback, even the fallout — it showed the Democratic Party leaders, even as middle-of-the-road political pragmatists, that there is a new energy and interest from a key demographic of voter that they care about. That was the effect of this whole Green New Deal roller coaster. And the outcome is we’re in new territory. I never thought I would write the sentence that Chuck Schumer wants to elevate the issue of climate change for campaigns, ever.

michael barbaro

So actually, you could argue that this resolution that seemed like a political fiasco in the beginning — it actually kind of worked. It injected this issue into the Democratic Party’s bloodstream, just as people like Ocasio-Cortez and liberals, perhaps, intended.

coral davenport

Even if nothing that the Green New Deal calls for actually comes to pass, it has changed the conversation. It has changed the political calculus. And it has helped bring the issue of climate change into the top tier of political campaigns, a place it’s never been.

michael barbaro

Coral, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

coral davenport

Thank you. [MUSIC]

Promise and Peril of the Green New Deal

The controversial proposal to combat global warming and economic inequality is transforming the political calculus around climate change.

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Lynsea Garrison, Clare Toeniskoetter and Lisa Tobin, and edited by Larissa Anderson
More episodes ofThe Daily

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:
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From the moment it was unveiled, a sweeping plan for tackling climate change called the Green New Deal has divided Democrats and handed a political weapon to Republicans. Here’s a look at the plan’s effects in Washington.

[For an exclusive look at how the biggest stories on “The Daily” podcast come together, subscribe to our newsletter. Read the latest edition here.]

On today’s episode:

  • Coral Davenport, who covers energy and the environment for The New York Times.

Video
The Green New Deal was introduced as a sweeping resolution to drastically reduce emissions over the next 10 years, but there is disagreement over how viable the plan is.CreditCreditJim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

Background reading:

Tune in, and tell us what you think. Email us at thedaily@nytimes.com. Follow Michael Barbaro on Twitter: @mikiebarb. And if you’re interested in advertising with “The Daily,” write to us at thedaily-ads@nytimes.com.

Coral Davenport contributed reporting.

“Promise and Peril of the Green New Deal” was produced by Lynsea Garrison, Clare Toeniskoetter and Lisa Tobin, and edited by Larissa Anderson.

“The Daily” is produced by Theo Balcomb, Annie Brown, Jessica Cheung, Lynsea Garrison, Michael Simon Johnson, Andy Mills, Neena Pathak, Rachel Quester, Ike Sriskandarajah, Clare Toeniskoetter, Jonathan Wolfe and Alexandra Leigh Young, and edited by Larissa Anderson, Paige Cowett and Wendy Dorr. Lisa Tobin is our executive producer. Samantha Henig is our editorial director. Brad Fisher is our technical manager. Chris Wood is our sound engineer. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

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