With Thursday’s vote, climate finds ‘bipartisan majority’ support in Congress

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) Climate Solutions Caucus

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke on the House floor yesterday in support of military research on climate impacts.

With Thursday’s vote, climate finds ‘bipartisan majority’ support in Congress

By Flannery Winchester

It’s happening. Republicans in Congress are starting to influence climate policy—in the right direction. This week, dozens of House Republicans joined Democrats to vote down an anti-climate amendment and sent a strong message that the military should prepare for and fight climate change. Here’s exactly what went down.

Dueling amendments

At the end of June, the House Armed Services Committee was crafting a defense policy bill called the National Defense Authorization Act. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced a climate-focused amendment that “directs the Secretary of Defense to provide an assessment of and recommendations to mitigate vulnerabilities to the top 10 most threatened military installations in each Service.” Translation: identify what military assets might be at risk because of climate change, and figure out how to protect them.

Then this week, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, introduced an opposing amendment to strike all the climate change language from the bill, meaning the military wouldn’t be required to assess and prepare for climate risks. For a few days, it wasn’t clear whether the rules committee would even allow this amendment. But late Wednesday night, the amendment was ruled in order and set for a vote the very next day.

This is where the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus sprang into action. Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), the co-chairs of the caucus, gathered their teams that morning. Then, they got to work reaching out to their fellow caucus members about this vote, encouraging them all to oppose the Perry amendment.

In addition to this behind-the-scenes coordination, some Republican caucus members took to the floor. “We would be remiss in our efforts to protect our national security to not fully account for the risk climate change poses to our bases, our readiness and to the fulfillment of our armed services mission,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).  Stefanik, who chairs the Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, also introduced the Republican Climate Resolution in the House earlier this year. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) was another strong Republican voice on the floor in opposition of the amendment.

So…how did they vote?

Together, 24 Democrats and 22 Republicans from the caucus voted to defeat this amendment. Plus, 24 other Republicans who are not (yet!) on the caucus also voted “no” on the amendment. See which way your representative voted by looking at the final vote results here, and thank your member of Congress for voting no!

“This is a definitive moment for the caucus,” said Jay Butera, CCL’s Senior Congressional Liaison. “This caucus with 48 members has become a significant voting bloc and a real force in Congress on climate change. We crossed that line yesterday.” Plus, he added, “There’s safety in numbers. We’re starting to see a ripple effect of this growing group of Republicans making it easier and easier for other Republicans to vote the right way on the climate issue.”

“This vote is proof that there is now a bipartisan majority in Congress of members who understand that climate change is a real threat to our communities, our economy, and our military readiness,” said caucus co-chair Rep. Deutch. “I hope my House colleagues were watching closely; denying climate change is no longer a winning strategy. This will only be the beginning, and I look forward to passing more climate-friendly legislation with my fellow Caucus members in the future.”

With the defeat of this opposing amendment, the original one from Rep. Langevin still stands. “This amendment is a responsible first step in recognizing what most of the world already knows—that climate change is real, and it will have a devastating effect on the readiness of our armed forces,” Rep. Langevin said in a statement.

Indeed, Trump’s Navy secretary nominee Richard V. Spencer told the House Armed Services Committee this week, “The Navy is totally aware of rising water issues, storm issues, etc.” Earlier this year, Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “The effects of a changing climate—such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others—impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”

A big thank you to everyone who worked to defeat this amendment, including the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Environmental Defense Fund, Center for Climate and Security, and CCL’s own Climate Security Action Team. Most of all, thank you to each representative who cast this vote for climate preparedness. Their courage and common sense approach will build more and more momentum for Congress to act on climate—we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.