Democratic candidates are spending an entire evening of town halls discussing climate change on CNN. The candidates have used their time to promote different plans for dealing with this global crisis. In contrast to the Republican silence on this issue, each of the Democrats have a vision about what needs to be done. Center and left agree that Washington needs to act.
But the one proposal that came out of the town halls, more important than any other, is getting rid of the filibuster. When Senator Kamala Harris joined the chorus calling for an end to the practice that allows a minority of senators to block the desires of the majority, she revealed a growing recognition within the party that it will be impossible to tackle climate change without this reform. Following the town hall, she reiterated the point,
tweeting: “If Republicans continue to block progress, I’ll get rid of the filibuster to pass a Green New Deal.”
Under Senator Mitch McConnell, Republicans have shown repeatedly that as a majority they will not support substantive legislation to curb emissions and as a minority they will use the filibuster to prevent Democrats from passing such bills. In other words, regardless of who controls the Senate in 2021, none of the Democrats seeking the presidency would be able to make progress via the legislative branch unless they have a 60-vote majority. And executive action, as President Barack Obama learned, can be easily reversed.
To paraphrase what Speaker Pelosi likes to say about needing to have 218 votes to move forward with an idea, without ending the filibuster Democrats are just having a conversation.
The time has come for action. The damage and threats that the world faces from a ravaged environment get worse every year. And as of now, most of Republican leaders have moved firmly into the denialism camp and reject the need for legislative solutions.
Democrats, as we saw tonight, do want to do something about climate change. But without filibuster reform, it will just add up to a lot of talk.
Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, and author of the forthcoming book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.”