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Why Mitch McConnell is holding a vote on the Green New Deal

It’s not because he thinks the Green New Deal is a good idea.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell smiles while talking with reporters following remarks on the Senate floor on January 25, 2019.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a surprise announcement on Tuesday: He’s planning to hold a vote on the Green New Deal. But it’s not because he thinks it’s a good idea.

The sweeping resolution to tackle climate change aggressively was proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) last week. McConnell now wants to put Senate Democrats on the record about whether they support it. It’s an especially prescient political move, given how many Democrats in the Senate are running for president in 2020.

“I’ve noted with interest the Green New Deal. We’re going to be voting on that in the Senate; it will give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how they feel about the Green New Deal,” McConnell said during a Tuesday press conference.

Nearly all the biggest 2020 names are co-sponsors on the Green New Deal — declared candidates Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are all on the bill, as is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is expected to make an announcement about running.

All said they’re doing so to make a big statement about their commitment to tackling climate change. It’s important to note that the Green New Deal is a resolution that’s basically a mission statement on how to address climate change, rather than an actual bill with policy prescriptions. (You can read Vox’s Dave Roberts on what the Green New Deal entails here.) But McConnell is hoping to put Democrats in an uncomfortable political position with this vote, especially since the Green New Deal’s rollout has already been marred by mistakes and mixed messages.

Markey sounded defiant when asked about McConnell’s plan to hold a vote on his resolution.

“Republicans don’t want to debate climate change; they only want to deny it,” the senator said in a statement. “The Green New Deal resolution has struck a powerful nerve in this country, and Republicans, climate deniers, and the fossil fuel industry are going to end up on the wrong side of history.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had a similar message, telling reporters that at least Democrats are offering a plan to deal with climate change, unlike the GOP.

“The first question Republicans should answer is what is their answer on climate change?” Schumer asked. “What are they going to put forward?”

This is a common strategy from GOP leadership when it comes to progressive messaging bills

McConnell’s tactic is an echo of something House GOP leaders tried last summer when progressive Democrats (then in the minority) filed a bill that would have abolished Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), among other things.

It was the height of the family separation crisis, but the rallying cry to “abolish ICE” was proving divisive in the Democratic Party. It was also the middle of the 2018 midterms, and Republicans were calculating it would be a losing message for Democrats, especially as they were trying to flip Republican-leaning districts across the country. (Democrats still won in a wave election.)

It didn’t work as planned; the progressive members of Congress who had introduced the bill quickly vowed to vote against it on the floor, saying they wouldn’t participate in Republicans’ stunt vote.

Now that the 2020 election is very much underway, McConnell has a similar calculus when it comes to the Green New Deal; not everyone is on board with the plan, and he wants to underscore the division in the Democratic Party.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey have already had an embarrassing setback to their resolution via Ocasio-Cortez’s office, which released a fact sheet inconsistent with the actual legislative text of the Green New Deal resolution. One of the talking points included language promising economic security for even those “unwilling to work,” which was very much at odds with the resolution’s text.

The move could also ramp up the pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to vote on the resolution introduced by one of her star first-term members in the Democrat-controlled House. Pelosi so far has made no commitments to do so and has openly welcomed other proposals to tackle climate change.

So far, there hasn’t been much reaction to McConnell’s move from Ocasio-Cortez; Vox has reached out to her office for comment.