- The Democratic National Committee’s chairman, Tom Perez, is under a lot of pressure to hold a debate for 2020 candidates that focuses solely on climate change, but he maintains there are better ways to ensure the issue gets attention.
- Ahead of the first Democratic primary debate in Miami, the DNC chairman on Wednesday told INSIDER that the issue would be discussed at length in the 12 debates set to be held this campaign season.
- “We’re going to do more on climate change in these upcoming debates than has ever been done and for good reason, because this issue is real,” Perez said.
- Perez also said candidates could touch on climate change in forums and town halls.
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MIAMI – There’s mounting pressure on the Democratic National Committee’s chairman, Tom Perez, to hold a climate-change-only debate for 2020 candidates, but he’s not budging.
As activists swarmed the Democratic Party’s headquarters in Washington to demand such a debate and just a few hours before the first Democratic primary debate was set to be held in Miami, INSIDER sat down with Perez and asked whether the uproar had led him to reconsider his position.
Perez has remained firm on this issue so far, rejecting calls from climate groups and a majority of the 2020 candidates for a climate-change-focused debate. And the DNC chairman on Wednesday showed no signs of changing his mind, but he maintains that the party will make sure to prioritize discussions on climate change until Election Day.
“We’re going to do more on climate change in these upcoming debates than has ever been done and for good reason, because this issue is real,” Perez said. “It’s not just here in Florida – you can go to Nebraska, you can go to Iowa, you can go anywhere around this country and see the impact of climate change.”
“Democrats understand that it’s real, we need to follow the facts and the science, and the Republicans still have their head in the sand, including Republicans right down here in Florida, inexplicably,” he added.
Perez said climate change would be a constant topic because of its “cross-cutting nature,” as it relates to areas as varied as job creation, as Democrats seek to pivot toward a clean-energy economy, and public health, amid concerns over fossil-fuel emissions.
“We’re going to talk about climate change early, often, and in depth,” Perez said, “and that is something that the other side won’t do because they deny it.”
Perez said that in discussions on the primary debates with the TV networks he emphasized the need for climate change to be prioritized.
Asked whether there would be enough time to adequately discuss climate change during debates with so many issues to cover, Perez said, “We’ll make the time, and we have 12 debates.”
The DNC chairman said there would also be opportunities to hold forums on climate change, among other issues.
“We have given candidates and others an unprecedented level of opportunity,” Perez said.
He said the “beauty” of climate change as a topic was that it “touches so many different issues,” adding that having it discussed in multiple settings, including debates, forums, and town-hall meetings, was “the way to make sure people understand the importance of climate.”
The DNC has said that if candidates participate in unsanctioned debates, including on climate change, they will not be permitted to participate in future party-sanctioned debates. Asked whether he would enforce this policy if a candidate participated in a climate-change-only debate, Perez again suggested that candidates take part in forums on the issue. “That is one of many ways that we can make sure this issue gets the attention that it deserves,” he said.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, scientists and activists repeatedly complained about the lack of direct questions on climate change in the debates. Perez seems confident that will not be the case this time.
Climate change is hanging over the first debate in Miami perhaps more than any other issue, with climate-focused demonstrations planned around the event.
In the hours leading up to the debate, climate activists could be spotted near the venue, Miami’s Arsht Center, including representatives with the League of Conservation Voters.
Emily Samsel, LCV’s national press secretary, told INSIDER she traveled down to Miami – a city she said could be “underwater in the next few decades” – specifically to emphasize the importance of discussing climate change in the context of the 2020 race.
“Voters believe addressing climate is a higher priority than ever before,” Samsel said.
Indeed, climate change has been cited as a top concern for voters in polling. A CNN poll from earlier this month of likely Iowa Democratic caucus participants found that viewing climate change as humanity’s greatest threat was a make-or-break issue for candidates.
“We want to see climate front and center at every debate,” Samsel said, adding that the media, candidates, and the Democratic Party “owe it to Americans” to ensure it’s prioritized along the campaign trail.