Nearly Every Democratic Presidential Candidate Is Now Backing a Debate on Climate Change

There are now 20 candidates in favor.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Twenty of the 25 Democratic presidential candidates have gone on record in favor of holding a debate devoted to climate change policy. In the past three days, five more candidates—including Kamala Harris—have told Mother Jones that they support a climate debate, raising the stakes for the Democratic National Committee, which has so far resisted allowing such an event to take place. In addition to the California senator, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Rep. John Delaney (Md.), and former Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) are now calling for a climate debate, joining big-name candidates including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

Earlier this year, the DNC announced plans to hold a dozen primary debates in 2019 and 2020 and to prohibit candidates from appearing in any debates that had not been approved by the national party. In April, climate activists launched a grassroots campaign demanding that one of the debates be dedicated to climate; they noted that presidential debate moderators had a long history of giving short shrift to the issue. It’s not just because activists want to vet candidate platforms and solutions, but because even getting candidates to talk more about an issue can raise the issue’s profile

The activists quickly won support from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has put global warming at the center of his campaign. But the DNC’s line all along has been that it wouldn’t hold any issue-specific debates.

The controversy reemerged after the first round of Democratic debates last week. Climate received 15 minutes of discussion over two nights, but the largely superficial discussion of the issue only seemed to strengthen the activists’ case, as key policy proposals such as the Green New Deal and 100 percent renewable energy mandates were virtually ignored.

DNC officials spent the weekend reconsidering the matter. The result was a pair of resolutions that could come up for a vote at the party’s August meeting. One proposal, backed by DNC executive committee member Christine Pelosi and others, would create a climate debate. A separate resolution, which Pelosi described as less ideal, would call for a forum in which candidates would appear individually to address climate policy. A third way forward, she suggested, might include an effort to survey party members about which issues deserve a standalone debate.

“It was somewhat ironic we [DNC officials] spent more time debating climate in our debate on Saturday than the candidates did Wednesday and Thursday,” Pelosi said. 

If a climate debate does happen, much of the credit will belong to activist organizations like the US Youth Climate Strike, a teen-led group that has pressured candidates into endorsing the efforts. They plan to join with another youth-oriented group, Sunrise Movement, to keep up the pressure throughout the summer. 

Still, six candidates either haven’t taken a position on a climate change debate or didn’t respond to requests for comment in time for publication. They are Sen. Cory Booker, who called for more time to be devoted to the issue after the first debate; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; California Rep. Eric Swalwell; and author Marianne Williamson. 

Here’s what each of the candidates have said:

Joe Biden

Biden addressed a Greenpeace activist at a campaign rally in Ottumwa, Iowa, on June 11: “That’s what we should be doing,” he said. “I’m all in, man. Take a look at what I’m talking about—and by the way, the first climate change plan in the history of the Congress?” The campaign confirmed his position to Mother Jones in July.

Bernie Sanders

He tweeted in response to a Youth Climate Strike activist:

Elizabeth Warren

The candidate tweeted a video of her reading a letter from an activist asking her to sign a petition for a climate change debate. “I’m up for that,” she said. She also backed Inslee’s pushback against the DNC:

Kamala Harris

Harris’ communications director told Mother Jones, “She’s said she is happy to debate.” Harris previously hadn’t said publicly that she supports a climate change debate. 

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg’s campaign confirmed to Mother Jones, “He would be open to doing a debate focused on the existential security challenge that is climate change.”

Beto O’Rourke 

Cory Booker

Booker supports more climate change discussion, but the campaign told Mother Jones that the decision is in the hands of the DNC. 

Andrew Yang

John Delaney

“John supports having a climate debate,” his communications director wrote in a July 1 email. “Climate has been a big part of our campaign and we mentioned our carbon fee and dividend plan during the debate last week.”

Tulsi Gabbard

Amy Klobuchar

Julián Castro

Bill de Blasio

“We support this!” de Blasio’s team told Mother Jones. 

Kirsten Gillibrand

A DNC debate focused on climate change would show the world that America intends to lead again on this issue, and would be a smart place to discuss the key tenets of the Green New Deal—infrastructure, green jobs and clean air and water—and how to put a price on carbon,” she told the Daily Beast.

Michael Bennet

Bennet told Politico he thought a climate debate would be “great.” 

Steve Bullock

No position

Mike Gravel

John Hickenlooper 

No position

Jay Inslee

Inslee was the first candidate to endorse a climate change debate, on April 17, launching his own petition aimed at the DNC. “I cannot rule out any other debate that would highlight both the necessity of defeating the climate crisis and calling for the candidates to step up to the plate,” Inslee said in an interview with Mother Jones. “Sixty-second sound bites, which is all you’ll be able to get in a party debate, is grossly inadequate to the task.”

Wayne Messam 

“Mayor Messam welcomes a debate on Climate Change!,” a spokesperson for the mayor of Miramar, Florida emailed on Wednesday. “Climate Change threatens are very existence and we must act now.”

Seth Moulton

Tim Ryan

Joe Sestak

The candidate wrote on Wednesday in an email to Mother Jones, “How could you not? It is the most destructive threat to America and mankind.”

Eric Swalwell

No position

Marianne Williamson 

No position

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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