Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign is built around an ambitious crusade to stop climate change and cut carbon out of everyday American life. But the Washington governor says his sweeping plans to remake the U.S. economy are more achievable than 2020 rivals’ big ideas, because he accepts that the first step would be abolishing the filibuster in the Senate.
Though the 2020 presidential field is overflowing with ambitious policy proposals, nuking the 60-vote threshold to overcome minority opposition in the Senate has given many Democrats pause — especially among the current and former senators atop the polls. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has expressed support for ending the filibuster, but Sens. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet have warned against getting rid of it, while Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand have been cautious on the issue.
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But in an interview with POLITICO reporters and editors, Inslee said rivals’ most important policy priorities don’t have “a chance in hell” without filibuster reform.
“My opponents and the other aspirants in the race have really sincere, powerful things they want to get done,” Inslee said. “None of which would have a chance in hell of getting done if they continue to cling to this filibuster. There is no way that Mitch McConnell is going to let major climate change legislation to the Senate floor. Even if we have 59 votes. He’s not going to let it happen.”
“How the heck can Bernie Sanders think he’s going to have a single payer [health care] system when he continues to support the filibuster?” Inslee continued. “He is supporting that which makes the single payer system an absolute impossibility.”
Inslee’s belief that the filibuster needs to go is rooted, like almost everything else in his campaign, in his focus on climate change. It’s not the only thing he discusses, recounting how he urged gubernatorial candidates to run on jobs when he chaired the Democratic Governors Association in 2018. But nearly everything relates back to climate change for Inslee, and he says that framing climate change as a route for new job creation would appeal to American voters.
“These jobs are everywhere in the United States. This is not just a San Francisco deal,” Inslee said. “Some people think, when they hear ‘clean energy,’ just solar panels, and they think just physicists. No: It’s people with a hammer and a saw, [retrofitting buildings]. So that’s a jobs message.”
Inslee stressed that despite dire warnings by environmentalists and advocates that time is running out to fight climate change, the topic is not an inherently depressing one.
“People have argued that the climate change message is one of fear. No, it is one of confidence,” Inslee said. “It is one of being confident in the can-do capabilities of Americans. … We have not ever passed environmental rule in the United States that we are incapable of solving. And I believe there’s no reason to believe we cannot continue on that pattern.”
Inslee spoke to POLITICO days after a campaign launch by another candidate who put climate activism at the center of his political life. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who founded a group focused on fighting climate change, has framed his candidacy around environmentalism and fighting economic greed.
But Inslee said his candidacy is different — one of several contrasts he drew during the interview, name-checking Harris as “largely not engaged” in the fight over climate change and suggesting his gubernatorial experience outweighed the plans put forward by some members of Congress.
Steyer’s campaign “hasn’t changed my fundamental approach,” Inslee said. “I will continue saying that I continue to be unique, because I’m the only candidate even now who says this has to be the top priority the next administration, and I will organize my administration around that fundamental principle.
Inslee added that he “will continue to argue that experience counts for something and as governor, I’ve had a unique level of experience of achievement in this regard.”
Inslee’s climate proposals have won praise from the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a proponent of the “Green New Deal” in Congress. The governor, a former House member, has been watching Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi navigate their relationship from afar, and he said vigorous debate within a caucus can be positive — as long as it remains part of a “constructive” relationship.
“There is a role for people to be pushing to the perfect at the fastest rate possible. That’s an important role for people in the Congress,” Inslee said. “And there is an important role for a leader of a caucus, to be able to fashion something that actually gets done when it has to get done.”
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