Kevin McCarthy faces uneasy right flank over climate push
But some GOP lawmakers aren’t on board yet: In fact, several were concerned about the effort being branded as a GOP-wide initiative, with lawmakers cautioning that they hadn’t read the new bills and weren’t even aware that they were being released on Wednesday.
“There are some that want to go that route, and some who don’t … A number of people brought issues to me,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. “People are like, ‘Is this an official rollout? It can’t be official. We didn’t vote on it.’”
“I think that’s what people’s concerns are,” he added, “but I don’t think that was what the intention is.”
Further adding pressure on GOP members, a handful of outside conservative groups came out swinging against the measures, including the Club for Growth and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The brushback underscores how there are still obstacles in selling Republicans on a solution to a problem that the party has long been resistant to acknowledge, especially among the old guard.
“Look, this is an important issue, particularly for millennials, particularly for young people and it should be for all of us,” said Republican Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia. “You know, as is the case in most issues, we do have some who aren’t onboard and I understand that. And at the same time, as a group and as a majority, we are in favor of market-based solutions.”
Republicans who were initially wary of the proposals may eventually get behind the new plan — and they’ve even applauded McCarthy for leading the charge on the thorny issue. They just don’t want to rush to judgment until they’ve worked through all the details.
“There’s probably a growing consensus among Republicans that we have to have a serious approach to the issue because it’s important to a lot of American people. But the devil’s in the details,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “And we want to address that issue in a way that doesn’t violate our core principles. So the jury is still out on all of that right now.”
McCarthy, who sees climate change increasingly as a GOP electoral weakness, has been gradually working to build support in the conference for a conservative plan. The broad idea was first discussed at the annual GOP retreat last year and then pitched more recently at a conference-wide policy meeting in January, where lawmakers were shown PowerPoint slides that emphasized a “clean environment” rather than climate change — a key messaging distinction.
GOP Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana, Greg Walden of Oregon and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas made presentations in January at that conference-wide meeting, and then Graves pitched the conservative Republican Study Committee last week.
And when Republicans introduced the package Wednesday, it wasn’t a splashy news conference: It was a pen-and-pad with policy reporters and seven Republican members, reflecting the more methodical and in-depth approach preferred by McCarthy. They plan to roll out more bills in the months ahead addressing other environmental issues, giving members plenty of bills to pick and choose from.
“We had a very thoughtful presentation in [the Republican Study Group] at our weekly luncheon. Graves made a very compelling presentation. I think it was well-received,” Johnson said. But, he added, “it was not in-depth on the legislation or any of these four bills in particular, it was more big-picture.”
Three of the bills expand a tax credit for carbon capture technology and infrastructure, along with additional federal money for research and development. The technology is key to cutting emissions for coal-burning power plants, and coal state legislators hope it could revive the struggling U.S. coal sector while creating a technology the U.S. can sell overseas.
“There’s some questions that people have raised with me about the sequestration sections. I’m not against sequestration, but I have to make sure it’s worded correctly,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), referring to technologies that trap and bury carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere.
“Because it’s not a bad word, but you’ve got to make sure it makes sense and you’re not just rushing out and slapping a label on something and saying, ‘Look at what we’re doing.’ And that would be my only concern.”
A fourth bill provides legislative backing for President Donald Trump’s decision — which he highlighted in last month’s State of the Union address and at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — to join the world in planting 1 trillion trees in an effort to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
In contrast, Democrats on the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources committees have lined up behind ambitious plans to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and 2040, respectively, which would require drastically reducing use of fossil fuels. Other Democrats have rallied around behind the Green New Deal, which envisions a “10-year national mobilization” away from fossil fuels.
Bill proponents say the GOP measures represent a conservative solution to address climate change. And while the proposals stand little chance of going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled House, they could provide Republicans a road map to talk about climate change on the campaign trial.
“They’re not regulatory, they’re not taxes. They’re good things we all ought to be able to embrace. But that doesn’t mean everybody’s going to embrace them. And that’s fine,” said Walden, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce panel.
Westerman, who developed the tree-planting portion of the package, said he’s received bipartisan positive feedback on the idea, and Ivanka Trump called him to say the president would give it a shout-out in his State of the Union speech.
Democrats, meanwhile, dismissed the idea that the measures represent an adequate response to accelerating global climate emissions.
“Planting trees?” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey laughed. “I don’t see anything that they’ve come up with that’s remotely trying to achieve a net zero carbon goal or even suggest climate is human induced. Until they recognize it’s human induced and it’s an emergency and you really have to do some sector-by-sector carbon goals to meet a 2050 deadline or sooner, they’re not serious.”
But even though the proposals are tailored to conservatives, the measures are running into some resistance on the right. The Club for Growth, which has been particularly active in 2020, bashed the bills within an hour of their release, soon followed by two conservative nonprofits, American Energy Alliance and Competitive Enterprise Institute.
“We think they’re stupid policies, and stupid politics. They’re trying to appeal to millennials who don’t like Republicans … but it’s faced a conservative backlash,” David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, said in an interview. “We definitely will not support candidates who endorse this proposal, and if there is a strong economic conservative running against them, we will consider endorsing them. … It is now something we will look at.”
That position is hardly unanimous among Republican groups, with some like ClearPath, a conservative clean energy group, praising the package’s emphasis on technologies that pull carbon dioxide out of the air and its “political and technical realism.”
“We appreciate their moonshot approach to carbon capture innovation that will make clean energy affordable,” Rich Powell, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “It’s a good strategy to focus on policies that facilitate breakthroughs relevant for the developing world, instead of divisive policies that would make traditional energy more expensive and only aid deployment of existing technologies.”
The conservative groups’ quick broadsides did not seem to have inspired an avalanche of attacks, as other Republican-associated energy groups have remained publicly silent about the bills. Republicans like Carter said they were “disappointed” at the conservative groups’ negative reaction, while others brushed off the objections.
“Club for Growth is now against planting trees?” Walden quipped.
Other Republicans said the attacks would succeed only in dividing the caucus, providing further benefit to Democrats who’ve used climate change as an electoral wedge.
“If conservative groups want to help divide us and keep liberal Democrats in a majority, well, this is a way that they can do it,” said Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, another senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
And despite some of the internal growing pains, many conservatives seem impressed with the approach outlined by McCarthy.
“It’s the way to go,” said Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, a member of the Freedom Caucus. “They talk about a climate crisis. To me, a crisis is if your house is on fire. … This is something we have time to adapt [to] so let’s do adaptive changes from a common-sense standpoint.”