33 to 28. It may look like a football score, but it’s actually the downsizing of the Republican side of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA-49) this morning announced he’s not seeking an eleventh term representing northern coastal areas of San Diego County in Congress. He joins departing GOP caucus members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-27), Dave Reichert (R-WA-08), Ed Royce (R-CA-39) and Pat Tiberi (R-OH-12).
Unless new members are recruited from current House ranks, the caucus’s roster of Republican members is set to fall from its current 33 to 28 by year’s end. The pending 15 percent shrinkage surpasses the overall 9 percent retirement rate among Republican House members this year. (We count 21 of 240 House R’s leaving, excluding a dozen or so moving or aspiring to higher office, based on Ballotpedia.) GOP Caucus members disproportionately represent swing districts, like Issa’s, possibly explaining the difference.
The Noah’s Ark-like conclave — Republican and Democratic Congressmembers enter as pairs, with Republicans the limiting factor — was founded in Jan. 2016 to provide a safe space and political cover for timorous Republicans to act on climate change. To date it’s been mostly cover and little action.
None of the Republican members have uttered a word in favor of carbon taxing, even the intendedly Republican-friendly “fee and dividend” espoused by the caucus’s catalyst, Citizens Climate Lobby, or the carbon dividend proposal devised by the Climate Leadership Council and advanced by Republican elders. Since Trump took office, moreover, none has fought legislation or deregulation enabling the administration’s fossil fuel juggernaut, save for squelching language in the National Defense Authorization Act that would have barred the Pentagon from analyzing climate threats to U.S. military installations.
It may seem incongruous that Issa, whose lifelong loathsomeness (full details at Wiki) has run the gamut from petty thievery and dangerous driving to obsessive Obama-bashing, not to mention amassing riches from his blaring, motion-detecting “Viper” car alarm, would have joined the Climate Solutions Caucus. There is no entrance criterion, however. That can be viewed as either a bug, enabling joiners to rack up green cred at no cost, or a feature, helping Republicans who might be seeking to exit the cult of climate denialism incubate pro-climate words and, eventually, deeds.
Both perspectives got a hearing in a feature article on the caucus last week in E&E News, A bunch of House Republicans accept warming. Is it real? Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune spoke for the first group, rhetorically asking, “[W]e are supposed to jump up and down and spew happy talk because now there’s a safe space for people to talk about climate change? Forgive me if I’m not happy.” Others quoted in the story, such as Emily Wirzba of Friends Committee on National Legislation, cited the need to rest climate policy on a bipartisan base, saying “The policy will be stronger even if Democrats take control of Congress, you know you’ll have Republicans that support climate policy.”
Defenders of the caucus also point to victories like inclusion of renewable energy credits (RECs) in the Tax Extender Act of 2017 (S-2256), pleas by Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA-6) and other caucus members to bar oil drilling in U.S. coastal waters or the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and a vote by 11 caucus Republicans that ultimately led the Senate to protect the Bureau of Land Management’s natural gas waste rule to prevent methane venting/flaring. Measured against the full dimensions of the climate crisis, however, these appear little more than baby steps. And measured against Trump’s drumbeat of deregulatory and verbal assaults on climate protection and policy, like his dizzying attack of falsehoods today on the Paris climate agreement, the positive moves by GOP caucus members pale even further.
Nevertheless, Issa and the caucus’s other lame-duck Republican members have a rare opportunity: a full year still in office to speak their minds on climate (or other issues) without fear of being primaried by unabashedly denialist insurgents. They could push back against Trump’s climate lies and call on their party to assume its Rooseveltian mantle of environmental stewardship. In doing so, they could set a standard for their 28 Republican colleagues who hope to keep their seats and, by their caucus membership, have ostensibly committed themselves to pursuing climate solutions.
Let’s hope they do. Otherwise, it becomes even harder to rebut the argument that the path to a better and safer world requires a Democratic sweep of the House, including Republican caucus members, in this year’s midterms.