Climate change will be the biggest issue dividing Democrats during the first 2020 debates

  • The first Democratic debates will be held this week in Miami, a city that faces a growing threat from rising sea levels and temperatures linked to climate change.
  • The debate location offers a fitting backdrop for 2020 Democrats eager to discuss how they plan to confront what the United Nations has called an “existential threat” to humanity.
  • But the Democratic National Committee has rejected requests from 2020 candidates to hold a debate exclusively on climate-change policy.
  • Progressive groups are using the Miami debates to elevate their criticism of the DNC’s approach to the issue of climate change.
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The first Democratic debates will be held this week in Miami, a city that faces a growing environmental crisis caused by rising sea levels and hotter temperatures linked to climate change – and the issue is poised to hang over the debates.

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who served as Florida’s Republican governor before switching parties, recently called his home state “ground zero for climate change and the impacts of rising sea levels and increasingly destructive storms.”

Crist said in an op-ed in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel that Miami offers the “perfect” backdrop for 2020 Democrats eager to discuss how they plan to confront what the United Nations has called an “existential threat” to humanity.

The Democratic Party is facing backlash from 2020 candidates for refusing to hold a climate-change-only debate

A number of Democratic candidates are battling the Democratic National Committee over its refusal to hold a debate limited to climate-change policy.

The vast majority of the candidates are calling for a climate-focused debate, but DNC Chairman Tom Perez said earlier this month that it’s “just not practical” to hold a debate entirely focused on a single issue. The DNC will hold a total of 12 debates throughout the course of the primary.

“Once I accede to the request of one candidate to have a debate focus on the issue he’s running on, then I need to go back to everybody else that has made those requests and reverse course,” Perez said, referring to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is running a climate-focused 2020 campaign and formally asked Perez for the debate.

Bernie SandersJohn Haltiwanger/INSIDERA rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 9.

A debate on climate change also has the potential to further expose division within the party over how – and how aggressively – to address climate change. While some candidates on the left flank of the 2020 field have voiced strong support for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitious Green New Deal resolution, others have put forward more modest plans to reduce carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy.

And Ocasio-Cortez has already criticised the current 2020 front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, over reports that he’d take a “middle ground” approach to her top issue.

“There is no ‘middle ground’ w/ climate denial & delay. Blaming ‘blue collar’ Americans as the main opponents to bold climate policy is gas lobbyist 101,” she tweeted last month. “We’re not going to solve the climate crisis w/ this lack of leadership. Our kids’ lives are at stake.”


Read more:
Democratic primary voters overwhelmingly prefer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal to Joe Biden’s climate plan

Inslee said Democratic leadership has threatened to bar candidates from future DNC debates if they participate in an informal climate forum.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the decision made by the DNC to refuse to hold a climate debate and to ignore these Democrats,” Inslee said in a recent email to supporters. “And I’m extremely concerned about their threat to punish candidates who would participate in an outside climate debate by locking them out of future DNC debates. It is undemocratic.”

Climate activists are staging demonstrations around the first Democratic debate in Miami

Climate activists are now going after the DNC – and using the first debate to press the issue. Several groups have planned climate-change-focused demonstrations in Miami this week.

The uproar from 2020 candidates and activists over the DNC’s refusal to hold a climate-change-focused debate is buoyed by the fact Democratic voters are extremely concerned about this issue. An April CNN poll, for example, found taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change was the top issue for Democratic voters.

The Sunrise Movement, a grassroots group that has teamed up with progressive Democrats to push the Green New Deal, on Tuesday held a sit-in at the Democratic Party’s headquarters in the nation’s capital, blasting Perez in the process.

“Tom Perez is telling us we can’t have a climate debate because that’s not how it’s been done before,” Sunrise cofounder Varshini Prakash said in a press release. “Business-as-usual is a death sentence for my generation and the billions of people who are already feeling the damages of the climate crisis.”

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