Three Republicans — including two from safe seats — sided with Democrats on Thursday in voting for a measure that would stop President Donald Trump from pulling out of the Paris climate accord.
The bill passed the House, 231-190. Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Vern Buchanan of Florida voted with the Democrats. Four Republicans — including Florida’s Francis Rooney, who’s been an outspoken Republican voice on the dangers of climate change — did not vote. He’s in Florida recovering from knee replacement surgery.
The legislation would prevent Trump from using federal funds to withdraw from the agreement, which can’t officially happen until after the 2020 presidential election. It also would require the president to develop a plan for the United States to meet its nationally determined contribution per the 2015 accord, under which the U.S. agreed to cut 26 to 28 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, compared to 2005 levels.
It’s a symbolic vote that has little chance of seeing any action in the Senate. But it comes as climate change occupies a bigger role in the political dialogue, with Democratic presidential candidates making the issue part of their platforms.
Public polling shows climate change is an increasingly important issue for Democratic voters, and Thursday’s vote allowed congressional Democrats, including some of the newest members of the caucus, to show voters they were making it a priority.
The party turned to freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham to give a floor speech before the final vote, for example. Cunningham flipped a longtime Republican district on the South Carolina coast last fall by emphasizing his opposition to offshore drilling.
For freshman Democrats from competitive seats, the lead-up to the vote was an opportunity to deliver impassioned remarks and try to paint the GOP as out of step with Americans on the issue. New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski listed major corporations that want the U.S. to remain in the pact — and used the moment to try to undermine the Republican attack on Democrats for being socialists.
“Exxon Mobil wants us to stay. The Walt Disney Company wants us to stay. Not a lot of socialists of on their board,” Malinowski said.
While the Trump administration has rolled back environmental protections and denied evidence of man-made climate change, even some conservative Republicans are starting to acknowledge its existence and humans’ role in causing it. Sixty-six percent of Americans believe global warming is caused by human activities, a March Gallup poll found.
While more Republicans, especially younger voters, now say they believe in climate change, the party’s lawmakers largely remain concerned about the economic impact of climate regulations.
Many of the moderate House Republicans who wanted to act on climate change are no longer in Congress. Nearly half of the Republicans in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus lost in last fall’s midterms. That included many Republicans with the highest lifetime scores from the League of Conservation Voters. Siding with Democrats on the environment was not enough to save them from the blue wave.
Of the Republicans who bucked their party on Thursday, just one — Fitzpatrick — is from a district that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales considers competitive.
Fitzpatrick is one of just three Republicans whose districts backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. (She would have carried the 1st District by 2 points had the lines used in 2018 been in place two years earlier.)
A former FBI agent who replaced his brother in Congress, Fitzpatrick often breaks with his party. He’s a top Democratic target in 2020, as he was last cycle when he defeated a self-funder by nearly 3 points. Inside Elections rates his race Tilts Republican.
The two other Republicans who voted with Democrats on Thursday hold seats Trump carried. Buchanan represents Florida’s 16th District, which is on the Gulf Coast and includes Sarasota. Democrats tried targeting him last cycle — attacking him for buying a yacht the same day the GOP passed its tax overhaul — but he prevailed by 9 points. The DCCC has not made Buchanan an initial target for 2020. Trump carried this district by 11 points. Inside Elections rates Buchanan’s race Solid Republican.
“Climate change is a serious threat to the Suncoast and the rest of Florida, which has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters,” Buchanan said in a statement after the vote. “Environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. We should be doing everything possible to accomplish both.”
Stefanik represents an upstate New York district that includes the Adirondacks. As the youngest Republican woman elected to the House, she’s tried to change the face of her party. She bucked leadership and the president on the GOP tax overhaul and several environmental votes in the last Congress. Trump carried her 21st District by 14 points, and she won re-election last fall by the same margin. Inside Elections rates her re-election Solid Republican.
Both Fitzpatrick and Stefanik have bucked their party recently on other symbolic votes, joining with Democrats to rebuke Trump’s national emergency declaration and to condemn the administration’s efforts to invalidate the 2010 health care law.