MIAMI, Florida, June 29, 2019 (ENS) – Climate change was on the formal presidential debate agenda for the first time as 20 Democratic presidential candidates with their hopes pinned to the 2020 election debated for the first time in back-to-back sessions Wednesday and Thursday evenings at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami. Ten candidates took part in each of two debates, selected at random to make up each group, and broadcast by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo.
The audience for the second debate across the three news outlets totaled 18.1 million people, the highest figure ever recorded for a Democratic primary debate. Wednesday’s event drew around 15.3 million viewers.
Debate One held June 26, 2019, featured: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The first candidate to speak on the crucial issue of climate change was Senator Elizabeth Warren, responding to a question from NBC’s Savannah Guthrie about her plans for the economy.
“So I think of it this way, who is this economy really working for? It’s doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top,” Warren said. “It’s doing great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere just not for the rest of us who are watching climate change bear down upon us. When you’ve got a government – when you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money and isn’t doing great for everyone else that is corruption, pure and simple.”
The next mention of Earth’s warming climate came in a question from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has staked his entire candidacy on the issue of climate change, making it his first priority.
“Let’s get specific,” said Maddow. “We are here in Miami which is already experiencing serious flooding on sunny days as a result of sea level rise. Parts of Miami Beach and the Keys could be underwater in our lifetimes. Does your plan save Miami?”
Governor Inslee answered, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we are the last that can do something about it. Our towns are burning, our fields are flooding, Miami is in the data and we have to understand this is a climate crisis, an emergency, and it is our last chance in the next administration to do something about it.
“We need to do what I have done in my state,” said Inslee. “We passed a 100 percent clean electrical grid bill. We now have a vision statement and my plan has been called the gold standard of putting people to work.”
“But the most important thing on this and the biggest decision for the American public is who is going to make this the first priority,” Inslee said, “and I am the candidate and the only one who is saying this has to be the top priority of the United States, the organizing principle to mobilize the United States so that we can do what we have always done, lead the world and invent the future and put eight million people to work.”
Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News and moderator of NBC’s show meet the Press, asked former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke who has issued a major climate change plan as a pillar of his campaign, “You want some big changes in a pretty short period of time including switching to renewable energy, pushing to replace gas-powered cars in favor of electric ones. What is your message to a voter who supports the overall goal of what you are trying to do but suddenly feels as if government is telling them how to live and ordering them how to live?”
O’Rourke answered that everybody should be part of the discussions, “That is why we are traveling everywhere listening to everyone,” particularly to farmers caught in spring floods who were “already underwater in debt.”
“We, in our administration,” said O’Rourke, “are going to fund resiliency in those communities, in Miami, in Houston, Texas, those places that are on the front lines of climate change today. We’re going to mobilize $5 trillion in this economy over the next 10 years. We’re going to free ourselves from a dependence on fossil fuels. And we’re going to put farmers and ranchers in the driver’s seat, renewable and sustainable agriculture, to make sure that we capture more carbon out of the air and keep more of it in the soil, paying farmers for the environmental services that they want to provide.”
“If all of us does all that we can, then we’re going to be able to keep this planet from warming another two degrees Celsius,” said O’Rourke.
Then Todd asked Julian Castro, a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Barack Obama, who should pay for mitigation of climate change, perhaps for building seawalls for people who are living in places where they shouldn’t be living? Is it a federal government responsibility to fix the living conditions or move these people? “How much should the government be bailing them out?”
Castro answered, “When I was mayor of San Antonio [2009-2014], we moved our local public utility. We began to shift it from coal-fired plants to solar and other renewables, and also created more than 800 jobs doing that. And when I was HUD secretary, we worked on the National Disaster Resilience Competition to invest in communities that were trying to rebuild from natural disasters in a sustainable way.”
“The first thing that I would do, like Senator Klobuchar also has said, is sign an executive order recommitting us to the Paris Climate Accord,” Castro said.
Todd then asked Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, “If pricing carbon is just politically impossible, how do we pay for climate mitigation?”
Ryan sidestepped the question, saying instead, “We have a perception problem with the Democratic Party. We are not connecting to the working class people in the very state that I represent in Ohio, in the industrial Midwest. … so we can say we’re going to build electric vehicles, we’re going to build solar panels. But if you want to beat [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, [a Kentucky Republican] this better be a working-class party. If Democrats don’t address their “fundamental problem with our connection to workers, white, black, brown, gay, straight working-class people, none of this is going to get done.”
Then Todd went down the line and asked all 10 debaters, “What is the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States right now?”
Todd then gave each debater 45 seconds for a final statement. Inslee devoted his time to climate change. “Trudi and I have three grandchildren,” he said. “We love them all. And when I was thinking about whether to run for president, I made a decision. I decided that on my last day on earth I wanted to look them in the eye and tell him I did everything humanly possible to protect them from the ravages of the climate crisis. And I know to a moral certainty if we do not have the next president who commits to this as the top priority it won’t get done. And I am the only candidate – frankly, I’m surprised. I am the only candidate who’s made this commitment to make it a top priority. If you join me in that recognition of how important this is, we can have a unified national mission. We can save ourselves. We can save our children. We can save our grandchildren. And we can save literally the life on this planet. This is our moment.”
And O’Rourke also spoke of climate change during his final 45 seconds, saying, “We can’t return to the same old approach. We are going to need a new kind of politics, one directed by the urgency of the next generation. Those climate activists who are fighting not just for their future but for everyone’s. Those students marching not just for their lives but for all of ours.”
Debate Two, June 27, 2019, featured: Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, California Senator Kamala Harris, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Congressman Eric Swalwell, author Marianne Williamson, and former tech executive Andrew Yang.
Governor Hickenlooper, a former geologist, was the first to mention climate change. It came in answer to NBC’s Savannah Guthrie’s question about socialism. The former Colorado governor said, “If you look at the Green New Deal, which I admire the sense of urgency and how important it is to do climate change, I’m a scientist, but we can’t promise every American a government job.”
Later he addressed the issue again, saying, “In Colorado, we’re closing a couple coal plants, replacing them with wind, solar, and batteries and the monthly bills go down. We’re building a network for electric vehicles. We are working with the oil and gas industry, and we created the first methane regulations in the country. Methane is 25 times worse than CO2.”
Congressman Swalwell, 38, made his first comment about climate change as he was pushing the more elderly front-runner Joe Biden, 76, aside, saying, “Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He’s still right today. If we’re going to solve the issues of automation, pass the torch. If we’re going to solve the issues of climate chaos, pass the torch.”
Then Todd focused the entire debate on climate change, first addressing Senator Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general. “You live in a state that has been hit by drought, wildfires, flooding. Climate change is a major concern for voters in your state,” said Todd, asking Harris to explain her plan to deal with this challenge.
Senator Harris answered by saying, “Well, first of all, I don’t even call it climate change. It’s the climate crisis. It represents an existential threat to us as a species.” She put the blame on President Donald Trump, calling him the president “who has embraced science fiction over science fact” … “to our collective peril,” and later calling him “the greatest national security threat to the United States.”
“I visited while the embers were smoldering the wildfires in California. I spoke with firefighters who were in the midst of fighting a fire while their own homes were burning,” said Harris. … “It is a critical issue that is about what we must do to confront what is immediate and before us right now. That is why I support a Green New Deal. It is why I believe on day one and as president, I will reenter us in the Paris Agreement because we have to take these issues seriously.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Buttigieg was next to address climate change. He said, “Well, the reality is, we need to begin adapting right away, but we also can’t skip a beat on preventing climate change from getting even worse. It’s why we need aggressive and ambitious measures. It’s why we need to do a carbon tax and dividend, but I would propose we do it in a way that is rebated out to the American people in a progressive fashion so that most Americans are made more than whole.”
“This isn’t theoretical for us in south Indiana,” Buttigieg said. “Parts of California on fire, right here in Florida they’re talking about sea level rise. Well, in Indiana, I had to activate the Emergency Operations Center of our city twice in less than two years. First time was a 1,000 year flood, and the next time was a 500 year flood. This is not just happening on the Arctic ice caps. This is happening in the middle of the country and we’ve got to be dramatically more aggressive moving forward.
Finally, Buttigieg brought farmers and inhabitants of rural areas into the debate. “First of all,” he said, “rural Americans can be part of the solution instead of being told they’re part of the problem. With the right kind of soil management and other kind of investments, rural America could be a huge part of how we get this done.”
Moderator Rachel Maddow of MSNBC asked former Vice President Biden if there are “significant ways you can cut carbon emissions” if you have to do it with no support from a Congress that includes Republicans who “are still not sure if they believe it is even a serious problem.”
Biden said yes and recalled that the Obama Administration built the largest wind farm in the world at the time, and the largest solar energy facility in the world. “We drove down the price, competitive price, of both of those renewable sources,” said Biden.
“I would immediately insist that we, in fact, build 500,000 recharging stations throughout the United States of America, working with governors, mayors, and others, so that we can go to a full electric vehicle future by the year 2030,” Biden said.
“I would make that we invested $400 million dollars in new science and technology to be the exporter, not only of the green economy, but economy that can create millions of jobs. But I would immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. I would up the ante in that Accord, which it calls for, because we make up 15 percent of the problem – 85 percent of the world makes up the rest. We have to have someone that knows how to corral the rest of the world, bring them together, and get something done like we did in our administration,” Biden declared.
Then Maddow turned her attention to Senator Sanders, who said, “Look, the old ways are no longer relevant. The scientists tell us we have 12 years before there is irreparable damage to this planet. This is a global issue. What the president of the United States should do is not deny the reality of climate change, but tell the rest of the world that instead of spending a trillion and a half dollars on weapons of destruction, let us get together for the common enemy, and that is to transform the world energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. The future of the planet rests on us doing that.”
Williamson said, “To have a clean economy, we’re going to have a Green New Deal, we’re going to create millions of jobs, we’re going to do this within the next 12 years…”
Todd then went down the line asking each debater what his or her first issue would be on that first day in the Oval Office.
Several debaters mentioned climate change: Bennet, Biden, Hickenlooper and Yang.
Yang said, “I would pass a $1,000 freedom dividend for every American adult starting at age 18, which would speed us up on climate change because if you get the boot off of people’s throats, they’ll focus on climate change much more clearly.”
Later, Yang said the United States needs to cooperate with China on climate change.
Swalwell emphasized the generational gap among the candidates, saying, “This is a can-do generation. This is the generation that will end climate chaos.”
Finally, the youngest debater, Buttigieg, 37, added his support to the electing of a younger president. “When I get to the current age of the current president in the year 2055, I want to be able to look back on these years and say, ‘My generation delivered climate solutions, racial equality, and an end to endless war.” Help me deliver that new generation to Washington before it’s too late.'”