Democrats see weakness in the GOP's stance climate change, and they’re doing everything to exploit it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised an open amendment process on the bill to approve the Keystone pipeline, and on Wednesday the Senate will take up six of those amendments—two of which are Democratic efforts that will put Republicans on the spot: Are you a climate change denier or not?
Senator Brian Schatz's amendment declares that climate change is real and caused by human activity, while Sheldon Whitehouse's asserts climate change is not a hoax. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders's has a third amendment, stating the U.S. has a responsibility to act on pollution, which could be taken up at a later point.
The climate amendments come one day after President Barack Obama's State of the Union, in which he took a swipe at a common conservative excuse for dodging questions about climate change science. "I’m not a scientist, either," he said. "But you know what I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.”
As Democrats go on the offensive over climate change, the GOP is starting to wish the issue would just disappear. Not only did Joni Ernst's response to Obama's address not mention climate, she left out her usual charge that Environmental Protection Agency's regulations harm the economy. And when Republicans posted Obama's speech on GOP.gov, they edited out Obama's comments on GOP climate denial.
Republicans know they can't ignore the issue forever. The 2016 electoral map and turnout will favor Democrats and pose a challenge for Republicans in moderate states, like Illinois Senator Mark Kirk. The Washington Examiner’s Zack Colman reported Monday that Republicans are regrouping to consider a new strategy on climate. "They're going to try to drag their feet as long as possible, but there are certain things out there that could bring the predominant GOP position to light," Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist and former adviser to John McCain, told Colman. "They want to at least have a unified position and they want to be able to have their ducks in a row. And if they have a solution, they want to have one that has the least impact on the economy."
That the GOP is strategizing about climate change is itself an admission that they don't have a climate plan. And until they actually come up with one, they'll be easy marks for the environmentally minded Democrats who are laughing at their expense.
Update: Republican Senator John Hoeven is responding with an amendment to boost moderate Republicans. It is a non-binding resolution that Congress should reject policies that hurt jobs and should promote clean energy innovation. It also claims Keystone XL will lead to less greenhouse gas emissions than an alternative route for tar sands oil. However, it does not say whether climate change is real.