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Under pressure from Sunrise RI, Senator Whitehouse refuses to budge on Green New Deal



Whitehouse’s explanations as to why he will not support Green New Deal resolution fail to satisfy constituents; Nearly half of those attending walk out

“I’m here today because I have so much respect for your work on climate change,” said Ann Garth, a Junior at Brown University, to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “I was a page in the Senate when I was in high school. I watched your Time to Wake Up speech on climate change every week. I remember one time I went to the back of the Senate Coat Room, where they store the posters, because I wanted to touch the poster and feel like I had some sort of physical connection to the history you were making.

“Two years ago I interned in your office. I wanted to work in your office because I had so much respect for your passion and commitment on climate change.

“As a young person I’m obviously very concerned about climate change. I’m scared for myself and my children and my children’s children. Not to mention all the people who weren’t lucky enough to be born with the privilege that I have who are going to suffer even more from climate change.

“The recent IPCC report indicates that we really don’t have any more time to waste. We need to take immediate action and not just immediate action but bold action. We need to stop emitting carbon, we need to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure, especially in places where people already suffer from massive amounts of environmental racism.

“We need to be creating renewable energy that’s going to create jobs for Americans that are sustainable and meaningful for them. Which is why I’ve been excited to see the Green New Deal resolution that Senator [Edward] Markey [Democrat, Massachusetts] just introduced in the Senate because it will solve these problems. It will stop climate change. It will protect our communities from rising seas and from dirty fossil fuel infrastructure. It will create green, livable jobs.

“You have talked in emails and on Twitter about how important the Green New Deal is and about how we need to stand up against the fossil fuel money that is polluting our discourse and is fueling the opposition to real action on climate,” continued Garth. “You’ve spoken about how important it is to really be bold and have a Green New Deal.

“This is really confusing to me because you have not yet co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution and your work has been so influential on this and you have demonstrated so much passion for this. You’ve talked for so many years about how we need to act to stop climate change.

“We need to take action. We need a solution. We have a solution now. It would solve the problems. It would help us protect our communities. So I have a very simple question for you, which is:

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“Will you cosponsor the Green New Deal resolution?”

“No,” said Senator Whitehouse.

Just over fifty people were in the community room at Cranston’s Central Library to hear Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island) and Grover Fugate, executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) speaking on the topic of “Preparing Rhode Island Communities for Rising Seas.” Garth asked her question during the Q and A.

In response to Whitehouse’s answer, about 20 people, members of Sunrise RI and supporters, rose, unfurled large banners, and took over the front of the room.

“We have a stunt prepared,” quipped Whitehouse.

Whitehouse continued to take questions from the audience. A woman rose and told the young people from Sunrise RI how much admiration and sympathy she had for them.

Nicole DiPaolo, a member of Sunrise RI, invited those in the room “who stand with our generation and taking bold action for climate change” to come join them in the front of the room.

Now over half the room was standing with Sunrise RI.

The woman admitted that she didn’t know much about the Green New Deal, and asked for an explanation. She also asked for an explanation from Whitehouse as to why he won’t support it.

“The Green New Deal is a proposal that has been put forward in the Senate that would move America onto renewable energy,” explained Garth. “It would also create jobs in green energy. It would help stop the powerful fossil fuel industries … The point of the Green New Deal is to move in the next few years, rather than thinking incrementally and thinking about long-term, small step things but to actually do something that will match the scope and scale of the crisis we face.”

“At this point the Green New Deal isn’t a bill. It’s a resolution,” said Whitehouse, explaining his opposition to signing on in support. “There is no scenario that I see yet … that solves the climate problem we face without Congress legislating. There’s no way without there being a bill. My experience in the Senate is that if you want a bill, particularly when you’ve got the other side, as it is, organized against us, you need to have a team, and you need to have everybody pulling together…”

“You have a team,” said Mary Pendergast from the Sisters of Mercy.

“People would get on board if you did,” said Lauren Manus from Sunrise RI.

“I don’t see that,” said Whitehouse.

“In the Senate, I very much want to organize something where every Democrat can support what we are doing,” said Whitehouse. “We need enough Senators on board to be able to win. We need to do it soon. I don’t think we have 12 years.”

“When the Democrats are divided, we are much less able to be effective … We need to work on an actual bill. A resolution is not going to change anything…”

“The resolution is how we build support,” said Sunrise RI member Nina Wolff Landau. “We need this resolution because we need to build support and we have young people across the country who want this and we’re going to start voting politicians out of office who don’t get on board. This is what we need.”

“I get that,” continued Whitehouse. “And we’re trying to build a bill that we can get behind and win and pass and solve this problem.”

After Whitehouse explained his position, Sunrise RI walked out, taking about 40 percent of the room with them.

Many of those who chose to stay were not sold on Whitehouse’s position however. In fact, many didn’t even understand Whitehouse’s position.

“I need you to explain the politics of it, again,” said a woman. “About not signing onto the Green New Deal and what Mitch [McConnell] is doing on the Senate floor. What’s the politics and who are the Democratic Senators that are against you?”

Whitehouse explained that Senate President Mitch McConnell (Republican, Kentucky) is attempting to force a vote on the Green New Deal to divide the Democrats. He called the move “disgraceful.” Whitehouse didn’t answer the second part of the question, so the woman repeated it.

“I think its almost the majority of the caucus [in opposition to the Green New Deal],” said Whitehouse. “Among the Presidentials, a number of them have not supported it.”

It was difficult to follow Whitehouse’s logic.

Afterwards I asked Whitehouse if he would vote against the Green New Deal if McConnell forced a vote.

“We’re strategizing in the caucus how to minimize the effect of his mischief,” said Whitehouse. “We have not reached a final plan yet.”

Sheldon Whitehouse

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.