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Vulnerable Democrats Missing From All-Night Climate Change Debate

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Thirty Senate Democrats are scheduled to stage an all-night talkathon to address climate change and its deniers, but notably missing from the extensive roster of speakers are moderate Democrats, especially those who are up for re-election in 2014.  

According to a list of participating senators provided by Democrats, the most politically vulnerable among them will not speak: Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana. Interviews with several moderate Democrats on Monday suggested they were not invited to contribute to the event, while GOP campaigns hit Senate Democrats generally for staging such a stand on the floor.  

“I will not be [speaking],” Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, said before votes Monday. “I will not be, but I think what they’re doing is helpful.”  

The all-night floor session, organized by the Senate Climate Action Task Force, was designed to highlight the consequences of the warming planet and urge Congress to take up climate change legislation, last considered comprehensively in 2010. But an unintended consequence of the effort was to highlight divisions in the party, especially on energy issues, which put these senators — especially from energy-rich states — in a tough spot.  

Landrieu and Begich, for example, come from states with economies that rely significantly on drilling.  

Divisions among Democrats on climate change issues and how to legislate them are nothing new.  

In 2010, now-Sen. Joe Manchin III infamously put a bullet through that failed cap-and-trade bill in a campaign spot entitled “Dead Aim ” before winning a seat in the coal-dominated state of West Virginia. In 2014, it appears Manchin and others like him weren’t invited to the all-night floor session, which was informally arranged, by word-of-mouth between senators involved on the task force.  

“I would be happy to participate if they would want me to,” Manchin said, noting in passing that he is working on a potential response with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and “all of us.”  

Begich used similar “I would be happy” language. The Alaska Democrat told reporters he, too, would not join his colleagues as they spoke into Tuesday morning.  

Reporters asked Manchin if he thought there was room for more moderate senators to make their case as part of Monday’s debate, and the West Virginia Democrat tiptoed around the issue, leaving room for his colleagues who are participating to craft their own message.  

“Well, you know, I would hope so,” Manchin said. “They have the right to do whatever they want to do. Maybe they want to go in a different direction, I don’t know. I’m fine.”  

In a neighboring coal state, the campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted out an email to supporters lambasting Monday’s “fake ‘filibuster'” and touting McConnell’s support of the coal industry.  

“Mitch has taken to the floor to let them know how he feels about their job-crushing plans, and even read letters from Kentucky Coal Miners who are losing their way of life thanks to the misguided policies of the Obama Administration and the liberal Left,” the email from campaign manager Jesse Benton read. “Mitch will continue to lead the fight against the radical environmentalists and the War on Coal. Tonight, he sent a message: the liberals can try to pull every trick in the book, but they won’t get away with it.”  

Earlier in the day, a McConnell spokeswoman sent to the campaign’s press list an article questioning whether Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes supports the Democrats’ all-nighter initiative.  

The article on the website for a Louisville-based NPR affiliate included a statement from the Grimes campaign, which suggested the secretary of state “understands the reality of climate change” but opposes “unnecessary” environmental regulation.

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