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The Senate rejected the proposal in what Democrats called a “sham vote,” but 18-year-old Jeremy Ornstein of the Sunrise Movement says that won’t stop the movement for climate action

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Image courtesy of the Sunrise Movement

DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.

The U.S. Senate voted no on a resolution for the Green New Deal on Tuesday afternoon. They held the procedural vote at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said that they wanted to get Democrats on record. The resolution, introduced last month by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, outlines a broad plan to tackle the climate crisis by reaching net zero emissions within a decade while creating millions of jobs investing in infrastructure and centering frontline communities. Democrats have said that McConnell’s call for a vote was an attack, and they voted ‘present’ instead of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the resolution to show unanimity. Even resolution sponsor Markey voted ‘present.’

Now joining me to talk about this vote is Jeremy Ornstein, an 18-year-old fellow and spokesperson with the Sunrise Movement. Sunrise is the youth-led environmental organization that spearheaded the push for the Green New Deal. Thanks so much for being on, Jeremy.

JEREMY ORNSTEIN: Yeah, my pleasure. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

DHARNA NOOR: So I want to start by asking you to talk about the Senate Democrats’s strategy on the floor today. Again, even Markey, the Senate sponsor of this resolution, just voted ‘present.’ Here he is at a press conference that y’all, Sunrise, held before the hearing.

ED MARKEY: Republicans and President Trump may choose to be in denial about the consequences of climate change. But to ordinary people, climate change is not politics. It is life and death. But instead of confronting this generational challenge, Senate Republicans and their leader Mitch McConnell have scheduled a sham vote today on the Green New Deal resolution on the floor of the United States Senate. They are calling this vote without hearings, without expert testimony, without any real discussion of the costs of climate action and the massive potential for clean energy job creation in our country. And that is because Senator McConnell wants to sabotage the call for climate action.

DHARNA NOOR: But Republican senators seem to think that this was a way to dodge the vote. For contrast, here’s what Texas Republican Senator Cornyn’s response to the vote was today.

JOHN CORNYN: But this proposal is a pie-in-the-sky, unattainable end destination with no details of how to arrive there. So as the Senate prepares to vote on the Green New Deal, I’d ask we keep in mind that our constituents didn’t send send us here to Washington to vote ‘present.’ That’s a cop out. Voting ‘present’? Give me a break.

DHARNA NOOR: So what do you make of this strategy? Was it a cop out to vote ‘present’? Did you support the strategy?

JEREMY ORNSTEIN: That’s a good question. I think today, we were talking earlier, and I think not–I don’t feel deterred by the vote, and by the fact that the Senate voted no. We were expecting this. This resolution was intended as a conversation starter. We knew it couldn’t pass the Senate, where the the party in the majority takes more than 90 percent of the total campaign contributions from oil and gas. This wasn’t supposed to pass. This was supposed to start a conversation.

And so I think that the Republicans who are calling this a cop out, who are asking for political leaders to just show up and pick a side, you know, which side of the line are they on? Are they for a Green New Deal? Or are they opposing the Green New Deal? I think they’re misinterpreting this moment.

Senator Markey said it himself. There haven’t been discussions, real discussions around this Green New Deal resolution. I sat in the Republican Senate chambers a few weeks ago to hear Republicans pointing to skewed graphs and a made up number that talked about the Green New Deal without, as the senator said, expert testimony; without considering the cost of inaction. And so this isn’t the big vote where everyone draws the line and says we’re going to take a side. This isn’t the the vote where history will look back to see who picked a side. But that has already begun, and it’ll continue to go on. This is one piece in this long political struggle to secure a livable future of good jobs.

And part of the reason I’m saying that is we’re looking straight ahead to 2020, because when those politicians come back asking for our votes, we’re going to remember today. We’re going to remember yesterday. And we’re going to remember from now until then what choices these politicians make. So this is one choice out of many. And I think that–yes. So that’s why I think that this is no cop out, because this what this vote is, is such a clear political stunt by McConnell to score some political points with his billionaire donors, because they’re cowards threatened by this Green New Deal.

At the same time, I question the Democrats. I’m a Democrat. I’m a registered Democrat. And I think that the Democrats are the only party that’s really standing up to the climate denialism of the Republican Party.

DHARNA NOOR: But standing up in what sense? I mean, there’s some disagreement amongst the Democrats, too. I mean, OK, they all voted ‘present’ today on the Senate side. But you know, Chuck Schumer today said that climate change is a crisis. So yeah, he supports action on climate change, I guess. But he’s calling for the creation of a Senate select committee on climate change. On the House side, Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that she’ll be creating a select committee on climate change. But Sunrise and AOC have called for a select committee on the green new deal, one that could draft legislation, have subpoena power. Let’s take a look at the clip from Chuck Schumer today at the Senate.

CHUCK SCHUMER: I am calling for the creation of a Senate Select Committee on Climate Change. It’s a crisis. Ask the farmers in Iowa and Nebraska and Kansas if they think it’s a crisis. The very least we can do is do what the House did, and set up a select committee on climate change. Bipartisan. The committee could be partners with the House committee. And we might actually get something done, not sham votes that everyone knows are a joke. A political joke. If there ever were an issue that demanded focus from this chamber, this is it. Climate change is an existential threat to our committee, to our country, and our planet.

DHARNA NOOR: So is Schumer’s proposal enough?

JEREMY ORNSTEIN: Yeah, I think you hit on the–He says this is the least we can do. It’s so clearly not enough. And I say that because he doesn’t call for something more. And if the reason, the big reason that these Republican GOP elite senators are so afraid to discuss the Green New Deal is because it’s not just the plan to decarbonize our economy, it’s a plan to transform our economy and society while making sure nobody falls through the cracks. And that is so truly a threat to the interests of their donors. So I think–and at the same time it’s the only solution that fits the scale and scope of the crisis, which is so big.

So when Senator Schumer calls for this climate change committee, which is definitely a compromise, he’s not compromising between two decent sides to find some meaningful common ground. He’s compromising with the people who are literally profiting, who are taking campaign money, from the executives who will profit from the crisis.

So I think that–I think that the leadership that we want to see is not just to say, you know, well, do you believe in climate change? Because we’ve moved past that. Climate change is here, and it’s hurting people right now. What Democrats in the Senate should be asking their counterparts is not “Do you believe in climate change?” If they don’t believe in climate change, they’re beyond politically irrelevant. The question we’ve got to be asking is “What is your plan that fits the scale and scope, that gets us to 100 percent renewable in line with the IPCC report?” And that’s a Green New Deal. If we’re going to do it in a way that makes sure people can live while doing it, that makes sure people can have access to good jobs. But anything other-

DHARNA NOOR: But some senators are saying that the proposals for things like Medicare for All being in the Green New Deal are unrelated to the climate crisis, and so they don’t belong in legislation like this. And so some of them are calling for more targeted action, they would say. So Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming today called for the implementation of carbon capture and storage instead of the Green New Deal. And Senator Cornyn said that it may as well include a proposal for a free beer and pizza. Why do things like Medicare for All belong in a resolution to fight the climate crisis?

JEREMY ORNSTEIN: Good question. Yeah, I wonder how much money the senator from Texas has taken from the people who are profiting from the destruction of our future. And I hope he knows that tackling a crisis this big is no joke. And a lot of the people who are going to be affected by this, we can’t drink free beer. Guess what? I’m not 21. So I hope the Senator hears that one. And more importantly, I think, is that the Green New Deal, the reason the Green New Deal isn’t just being championed by environmental groups, isn’t just being championed by people who live in rural areas, or urban areas, or suburban East Coast, West Coast, heartland, but by all these groups, by people who who are fighting for a new economy and live in all parts of the country, who come from all walks of life, is because it’s not–it doesn’t just address one thing. It actually transforms our country to deal with many interconnected crises.

And the reason for that is that the climate crisis, which is caused by our dependence on fossil fuel, is so interlinked to everything about our society. That’s why the scale of transformation, the infrastructure investments, the public transportation, the energy, the food, all of these systems which power our lives, that are that are so ingrained in the way we live, to change those, to change all of them to save us from this terrible threat which is already here, there’s so much work involved. There’s so much change..

DHARNA NOOR: To answer your question, Senator Cornyn from Texas actually takes the fourth most amount of fossil fuel contributions from anybody on the Senate.


DHARNA NOOR: But you mentioned, right, that the point of this Green New Deal resolution wasn’t to get it to pass. But you know, much was made today of the rather unorthodox remarks of Senator Mike Lee. And when he wasn’t showing pictures of Reagan riding a dinosaur, he was dismissing climate change as a threat to worry about later, not now.

[Clip of Sen. Mike Lee]

JEREMY ORNSTEIN: It highlights to me importance of having people–I think the congresswoman from Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley, says the people in power should be the people who are closest to the pain. So I am sure that the senator from Utah knows where his water is coming from every day, and isn’t worried about heat waves. And I, yeah, I’m concerned for his grandchildren, for his kids. I know he’s put up the poster that says have a lot of kids. And I, you know, a lot of the people around now won’t be around to see the worst consequences of the climate crisis, so they’re just going to keep getting worse. So I think it’s really important that our leadership reflects all the people who are dealing with the challenges of the day. That’s the first thought.

And second, we know that putting forward a resolution for a select committee for a Green New Deal changed the political landscape in a dramatic way. I mean, we’ve got Republicans who take money from fossil fuel executives. We’ve got the Republicans, the GOP elite who are the most ardent supporters of President Trump, who a climate denier-in-chief, as Markey says. Those Republicans, those GOP elite politicians, are putting forward their own plans to deal with climate change that of course don’t match the scale and scope of the crisis. But they’re being forced to do this politically. And we also know that fossil fuel executives like the Koch brothers continue to have a grasp, continue to have power on our politics, or else something like the Green New Deal would be implemented a long time ago. Or else they wouldn’t be using made up numbers to lie about it so vehemently.

So here’s the truth about this. This is not just a fight to build enough solar panels and invest enough in infrastructure in time. This is also a political fight to make sure that our generation and ordinary Americans have the political power to pass all the things we need. Once we do the politics, then we can worry about it. And at the same time as we do the politics we can worry about survival, prosperity. But we know that–we know that the enemy really is clear that there are people who are very invested in holding back action. And when we do something like we did in November and December, and now, introducing the Green New Deal resolution, making a really bold political ask, that’s when we challenge Senator Lee to say “What’s your plan?” That’s where we get him on the record, talking about babies, talking so clearly naive about the situation, naive about the threat.

And that’s where we–that’s how we tell our fellow Americans. That’s how we exposed the crisis, expose the corruption. And that’s how we set ourselves up to win in 2020. And we can–you know, I think it’s good when members of Congress talk about more incremental approaches. I think, fine, let’s do all the small things, too, because we’re going to have to do at some point. But if we don’t take bold political leadership, then we’ll never go all the way. And if we don’t take bold political leadership we’ll never exile the fossil fuel campaigns, the fossil fuel billionaires, from our politics. And if they keep a grasp on our politicians, I don’t know if we’ll ever get a plan passed that really fits the scale and scope of the crisis. I hope that makes sense and answers your question.

DHARNA NOOR: Yes, definitely. OK, Jeremy Ornstein joining us today from Washington, DC, where the Senate has voted no on a resolution for the Green New Deal. But again, Jeremy says that he and the rest of the representatives from the Sunrise Movement are not deterred. Thank you so much for being here again today.

JEREMY ORNSTEIN: Thank you so much.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.