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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is commandeering the Democrats’ Green New Deal in an attempt to expose their divisions and force some of the party’s leading 2020 presidential candidates into an awkward vote.

The Green New Deal – mostly a collection of goals for mitigating climate change rather than a fully formed plan of action – has been a favorite punching bag for McConnell and Republicans since it was rolled out with fanfare by freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey.

“I could not be more glad that the American people will have the opportunity to learn precisely where each one of their senators stand on this radical, top-down, socialist makeover of the entire U.S. economy,” McConnell said Monday, ahead of a planned vote that could come as soon as Tuesday.

The resolution has more than 100 congressional Democrats as co-sponsors, including the six senators running for president. While Democrats are united on the need for significant action to stem climate change, they don’t agree on the specific prescriptions.

When McConnell puts the resolution on the Senate floor most Senate Democrats will be voting "present" to protest what they see as a sham vote forced by the majority leader, said Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. The question marks are Democrats who represent solidly Republican states who might vote no and some of the six senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Little trap

“This is a little trap that Senator McConnell is trying to set here that Democrats are not going to fall into,” Morgan Gray, Markey’s legislative director, said at a conference of renewable energy executives last week. “Bringing this resolution to the floor without any hearings, without any science, without any experts, without any testimony, without any amendments, is not the way the Senate should be conducting business.”

To counter McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats are highlighting the lack of a Republican plan to address climate change, and they plan to introduce separate proposals that would get broad support within the party.

“Let’s not do a sham vote that’s meant to embarrass one person or another,”’ Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “This is too serious an issue for that. Republicans owe the American people some real answers, not games.”

In the House, Democrats are planning to introduce a climate resolution this week calling for the U.S. to remain part of the Paris Climate Accord and require the Trump administration to formulate a plan to meet its emission reductions goal, according to a senior Democratic aide. Trump gave formal notice in 2017 that he intended to pull out of the agreement, under which the U.S. pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Willing to wait

Senate Democrats don’t appear to be under any real pressure from outside progressive groups to vote for the Green New Deal at this point.

Adam Green, a co-founder of the grassroots Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said McConnell is trying to force some "no" votes at a time when the specifics are being worked out and many Democrats are still reviewing it. Voting "present" shows Democrats aren’t going to hamper things with any early dissent, he said.

"Present’ is saying this is a credible enough concept that we’re not going to undermine it," he said.

McConnell’s ploy of holding a doomed-to-fail show vote that forces the minority party to take a stand on one of their controversial proposals has a long history in the Senate.

Forcing votes

Former Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, used the tactic in 2011 when he forced Republicans to vote on a Medicare voucher program proposed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who was then the House Budget chairman. That vote fueled Democrats’ messaging strategy in the 2012 elections that saw them expand their majority by two seats.

McConnell on occasion forced votes on President Barack Obama’s budgets, with no senator voting for them.

The challenge for Democrats looking ahead to 2020 campaigns is to avoid having their support for a still-evolving climate proposal tarred by Republicans attempts to portray it as an extremist agenda that would do away with hamburgers and airplane travel.

"It’s one thing to be on the campaign trail and say here is what I believe in and fill in the details," said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau, a former top aide to Reid. "It’s another thing to go on record and let other people fill in the details for you."

Presidential candidates

The six Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate have all signed on to co-sponsor the Green New Deal, but most aren’t saying yet how they’ll vote on the floor. Cory Booker of New Jersey said he’ll vote "present." A spokeswoman for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts couldn’t say how she’ll vote. Spokesmen for the four other declared candidates and cosponsors – Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota – didn’t respond.

Booker has called the Green New Deal "bold," and Harris has said it’s "an investment" worth the cost. Klobuchar, however, described it as simply "aspirational" and a "jump-start" when asked about it recently.

"I am for a jump-start of the discussion and a framework as Senator Markey has described – I am not for reducing air travel," Klobuchar said on Fox News. "We just need to start as a country seeing it as aspiration to do better than we’re doing now."

Another possible White House contender – Michael Bennet of Colorado – attacked McConnell when asked whether he supports it.

“What he’s trying to do is trap people on either side of that divide," Bennet said recently on Fox News. “We need to be as strategic as he is without being as malevolent as he is."

Undecided

Meanwhile, one Senate Democrat who has been particularly critical of the plan – Joe Manchin of West Virginia – hasn’t yet decided how he will vote, said his spokesman, Jonathan Kott. Another Democrat in a strongly Republican state, Doug Jones of Alabama, said he won’t decide until right before the vote.

John Ashbrook, a Republican strategist and former senior aide to McConnell, said the trap is one of Democrats’ making.

"Socialist proposals like the Green New Deal trap Democrats between their party base who wants it and mainstream Americans who don’t," he said. "Any Democrat who doesn’t vote against socialism will wear that decision like a sandwich board for the rest of their career."

The GOP messaging in the debate focuses on the botched early February rollout of the proposal, which included the release of documents from Ocasio-Cortez’s office promising economic security even for those "unwilling to work," as well as suggesting the eventual elimination of air travel and "farting cows."

Dangerous fantasy

McConnell has accused Democrats of banning "anything with a motor that runs on gasoline" and embracing "garden variety 20th century socialism" at a cost of tens of trillions of dollars.

"This dangerous fantasy would burn through the American people’s money before it even got off the launch pad, but the cost to the Treasury is just the beginning," McConnell said on the Senate floor this month. "It’s hard to put a price tag on ripping away the jobs and livelihoods of literally millions of Americans."

In addition to establishing a "net zero" goal for greenhouse gas emissions, the proposal by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey says it would create "millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States."

With assistance from Ari Natter.

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