The Democratic National Committee (DNC) will not let 2020 primary candidates share the stage in a debate devoted to the climate crisis, the party voted Saturday during its summer meeting in San Francisco.
The DNC resolutions committee had already voted against holding a party-sanctioned debate on the topic Thursday, but it did approve language that would have allowed candidates to speak face-to-face on the issue at a third-party sponsored event. That compromise was voted down 222-137 Saturday, CNN reported. CNN and MSNBC both plan to hold climate forums in September, but the candidates will have to speak separately and will not be able to engage each other.
“This decision is as baffling as it is alarming,” candidate and former Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke tweeted of the decision. “Our planet is burning—the least we can do as a party is debate what to do about it.”
This decision is as baffling as it is alarming. Our planet is burning— the least we can do as a party is debate what to do about it. https://t.co/A7uvwTJSku— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 24, 2019
Climate activists like the youth-led Sunrise Movement have been mobilizing for a climate-specific debate for months, and most of the candidates have said they would participate, but top DNC officials, including Chair Tom Perez, have argued that it is unfair to single out one issue for discussion over others, The Mercury News reported.
“We want to make sure we don't change the rules in the middle of the process,” Perez said Saturday, as The Mercury News reported. “We have a North Star principle: We want to be fair to everyone.”
But others argued that the climate crisis is not just another issue.
“If an asteroid was coming to earth, there would be no question about having a debate about it,” Kansas DNC member Chris Reeves said, as The Mercury News reported. “But with this existential crisis facing the world, we all sit and wring our hands.”
The debate at the meeting Saturday was interrupted by protesters chanting “We can't wait” and “Failure of leadership.”
“The Democratic Party needs the energy, motivation, and organizing capacity of young people to defeat Trump in 2020. But Tom Perez keeps shooting the party in the foot by rejecting that energy and turning it away,” the Sunrise Movement said in a statement Saturday.
After Thursday's vote, The Sludge suggested one reason why the DNC might be hesitant to endorse a climate debate. Perez put forward a resolution, approved in 2018, that allowed the DNC to take donations from fossil fuel employees and their political action committees. That resolution weakened an earlier ban on taking money from fossil fuel PACs. The Sludge laid out how the change has impacted the party's finances:
“Since January, the DNC has taken at least $60,750 from owners and executives of fossil fuel companies. The DNC's fossil fuel industry donors include George Krumme, owner of Krumme Oil Company, who contributed $20,000, and Stephen Hightower, president and CEO of Hightower Petroleum Company, who contributed $35,500. Other donors include Duke Energy President CJ Triplette, Crystal Flash Energy executive Thomas Fehsenfeld, and Southern Petroleum Resources President David Simpkins.”
However, the climate debate fight is not necessarily over. Presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) put out a call for fellow candidates to defy the DNC and join him for a climate debate in Youngstown, Ohio, The Toledo Blade reported Sunday.
“It's truly a disappointment that the DNC denied our party the opportunity to show America that a strong agenda that reverses climate change means high paying manufacturing jobs for American union workers and solid profits for American farmers,” Ryan said in a statement. “Voters deserve a chance to know that we take this issue seriously and are going to be very proactive in reversing climate change, unlike the current administration.”
Main image: Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in 2016. Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0