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Progressive and Moderate Dems Spar Over Green New Deal at First Debate

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Progressive and Moderate Dems Spar Over Green New Deal at First Debate

The Green New Deal got its moment in the spotlight during the first half of CNN's Democratic primary debate in Detroit Tuesday night, revealing a divide between progressive and moderate candidates on the best way to tackle the climate crisis.


The ambitious 10-year plan to phase out fossil fuels while creating green jobs and reducing inequality was name-checked by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) during the first round of debates in Miami last month, but it wasn't the subject of serious discussion until last night, HuffPost reported.

The first question on climate came almost 90 minutes in and went to former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who spoke on why he thought the Green New Deal was not realistic.

"First of all, because it ties its progress to other things that are completely unrelated to climate like universal health care, guaranteed government jobs and universal basic income," Delaney said, as ABC News reported. He promised to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 through putting a price on carbon.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper then joined in the critique.

"I think the guarantee for a public job for everyone who wants one is a classic part of the problem. It's a distraction," he said.

Progressive candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), meanwhile, offered passionate defenses of the plan.

"Look, I put a real policy on the table to create 1.2 million new jobs in green manufacturing," Warren said, referring to a plan her campaign unveiled in June. "There's going to be a $23 trillion worldwide market for this. This could revitalize huge cities across this country, and no one wants to talk about it. What you want to do is find the Republican talking point of a made-up piece of some other part and say, oh, we don't really have to do anything. That's the problem we've got in Washington right now. It continues to be a Washington that works great for oil companies, just not for people worried about climate change."

Sanders also spoke out in favor of dreaming big, and against the fossil fuel industry.

"I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas," Sanders said, as HuffPost reported further. He then referred to the Republican-led bail out of large banks during the 2008 financial crisis. "Please don't tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry … nothing happens unless we do that."

In their defense of the Green New Deal, Sanders and Warren matched the views of thousands of demonstrators in Detroit before the debate Tuesday, who gathered to call on the Democrats to make climate action a priority. The protesters, organized under the banner Frontline Detroit, also wanted the candidates to visit marginalized communities in Detroit that had suffered from air and water pollution, The New York Times reported.

"These candidates see the glitz and glamour of America, but they need to see us — the people on the bottom," Detroit climate activist Theresa Landrum told The New York Times. "White people champion climate change but it's us, the people, who are suffering the impact."

Protesters also expressed support for the economic justice aspects of the plan, which were painted as unrealistic by the more moderate Democrats, as HuffPost reported. Joined by around 700 members of the Service Employees International Union, they called on politicians to make Detroit "the engine of the Green New Deal." Despite the moderates' skepticism, 63 percent of voters think the Green New Deal is a "good idea" and 55 percent approve of the plan's job guarantee.

"It's interesting that candidates like Delaney and Hickenlooper are criticizing the Green New Deal's job guarantee components when that's one of the most popular parts of the plan," Sunrise Movement spokesperson Stephen O'Hanlon said, as HuffPost reported. The Sunrise Movement helped push the plan to national prominence and participated in the protests in Detroit. "This debate is held in Detroit, where so many people are looking for good-paying jobs transitioning our economy off fossil fuels and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure."

Other candidates on stage also staked out their positions. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) focused on adapting new farming techniques to flight climate change, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said supporters of the Green New Deal alienated fossil fuel workers with their attacks on the industry.

Sanders pushed back against this characterization.

"Ain't nobody in the Congress is more strongly pro-worker than I am," Sanders said, as ABC News reported. "So when I talk about taking on the fossil fuel industry, what I am also talking about is a just transition."

Of the other candidates on stage Tuesday night, author Marianne Williamson, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke have all also endorsed the Green New Deal, according to 350 Action's 2020 Climate Test.

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