There’s no denying that Congress and the country have a lot on their plate when it comes to issues of concern to the Left, but there are several areas where Democrats seem to be willing to ignore, including environmental issues and the poor.
On Sunday, Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, faced some harsh criticism from the blog Roll Call for pushing a $115,000 donation to an Oakland environmental group called East Bay People’s Council.
An effort to support the funding, known as money for paradise, was launched by conservative watchdog group C4 PAC, which says the money was meant to undo decades of environmental protections that have hurt the communities.
Ellison, D-Minn., defended the move: “Democrats don’t work to empower Republicans; we work to empower everyday people,” he said. “In light of a federal government that has basically privatized the environment, the last thing America needs is another investment in those few conservatives who are fighting the good fight. The Obama administration blocked almost all of the environmental policies that were put in place in the 80s, 90s, through the 1990s and today. Who gets to be the first to lift the dead-end ban?”
Former Kansas Sen. Tom Harkin, who recently left Congress to become president of the American Association of Retired Persons, told The Hill that environmental concerns have taken a back seat to “incumbent protection” since President Trump was elected.
“Our priorities have not really been the environment,” he said. “I have said since I’ve been here, let’s be clear, there is no division between progressives and Republicans about the environment. I’ve worked with people on the right and on the left to push back on dangerous measures — the climate change, for example. But let’s not be deluded: We cannot afford to back away from long-term solutions.”
Progressive activists who helped rise to power on environmental issues for the Democrats in the 1990s have even become more active to push for more funding of “climate projects” and oppose Trump’s continued exploration of fossil fuels.
Republicans, however, have long given environmental issues secondary billing to that of spending for defense, immigration and taxes.
In February, representatives from the Grist, Union of Concerned Scientists and League of Conservation Voters testified before the House Natural Resources Committee about Trump’s budget proposal, as did three major Republican members of the committee: Ken Calvert, R-Calif., Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
The committee, which has considerable influence over the massive national parks and wilderness-restoration budget, overwhelmingly voted to support Trump’s budget, with a majority of Republicans supporting it.
In an interview with The Hill, Kuttner, director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, an offshoot of President Obama’s agenda, dismissed the call for Democrats to focus on protecting workers rather than the environment, and said liberals need to think about a more concrete and ambitious vision that will appeal to a broad range of voters.
“It’s clearly not happening,” she said. “I don’t know if any of these groups will ever make another energy policy proposal again. They’ve just been doing this for so long that they’ve lost their ability to think about energy policies other than for pure political opportunism.”
But Kuttner said in light of Republicans doing the same for decades, many Democrats are unable to do more than keep up a “limitation” on Republicans over the last 20 years by criticizing them for seemingly lacking moral high ground on issues of the environment.
Instead, Kuttner said, they need to not just emphasize workers’ rights and consumer protection, but also take on the Republicans over the moral right to turn back on environmental protections under the premise that it is a violation of human rights.
“That’s where we need to go,” she said. “We need to draw a line and say, ‘You can talk all you want about being concerned about workers’ rights. If you want to show up to protect a corporation’s rights, that’s fine. But if you think it’s okay to turn back on clean air and clean water, then there’s no