On 7 February 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, introduced a five-page nonbinding resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives for federal government to recognize its duty to establish a “Green New Deal.”
The controversial proposal incorporated seven goals previously articulated by Ocasio-Cortez for the U.S. to realize within ten years:
Dramatically expand existing renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources;
building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country;
eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water;
funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases;
making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely greenhouse gas neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.
The broader proposal also called for sweeping social measures such as “a job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one,” “basic income programs” and “universal health care programs.”
On 26 March 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forced a preemptive vote in the U.S. Senate on a procedural motion to take up a binding form of the resolution, deriding the Green New Deal as a plan for “basically outlawing the only sources of energy that working-class and middle-class families can actually afford” that would “kill off entire domestic industries” and eliminate millions of jobs.
Democrats criticized McConnell’s move as a “sham” intended to “quash debate by blocking public hearings and expert testimony about the consequences of inaction on climate change” and to hasten a vote in order to force Senate Democrats to commit to either supporting or rejecting the proposal at a very early stage:
Republicans … set up this vote to highlight potential splits in the Democratic caucus and force lawmakers to splinter from a high-profile, progressive idea.
As the thinking goes, if only part of the Democratic caucus wound up backing the idea, Republicans could argue that it didn’t actually have enough support from the party … Additionally, the move was aimed at putting Democrats from more moderate states in a tough position, forcing them to choose between backing a popular liberal idea and potentially turning off some of their constituents.
“The Senate vote is a perfect example of that kind of superficial approach to government,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “What McConnell’s doing is that he’s trying to rush this bill to the floor without a hearing, without any markups, without working through committee — because he doesn’t want to save our planet. Because he thinks we can drink oil in 30 years when all our water is poisoned.”
In the event, most Democrats didn’t bite. All 53 Republicans in the Senate voted against the plan, but they were joined by just three Democrats and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine (who caucuses with Democrats). The remaining 43 Democratic senators all declined to commit and merely voted “present” in protest of the GOP’s action. The procedural motion was thus voted down by a 57-0 margin.
A meme circulated online afterwards offensively portrayed Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as a “100% retard” for failing to “even vote for [her] own bill”:
The implications of that meme were wrong on two counts:
1) The Senate was not voting on whether to accept or reject Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” resolution. What the Senate voted on was a different form of the resolution, and what they voted against was not the resolution itself but a motion for cloture, the step of agreeing to end debate on a bill so that Senate consideration of it can move forward:
This was not the non-binding Green New Deal resolution introduced by Sen. Edward Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Feb. 7.
Instead, this was a version that McConnell himself introduced, and it was a binding resolution. Instead of voting on whether “it is the sense of the Senate” that the government has a duty to create a Green New Deal, senators would have been skipping ahead to vote on whether the Green New Deal should become “the policy of the United States,” without so much as a hearing.
Under Senate rules, making it binding was the only way McConnell could hold a show vote without the usual process of assigning the legislation to the appropriate committees for discussion and debate. That would put a public spotlight on experts testifying and debate over climate solutions, something McConnell is seeking to avoid.
Technically, the Senate voted on whether to end debate on McConnell’s motion to proceed to consideration of his version of a Green New Deal resolution. This “cloture” vote wasn’t on the substance of the Green New Deal.
McConnell’s aim was not to actually consider the Green New Deal, which he describes as a “socialist” plan that would “uproot life as we know it.” He was hoping the vote would kill talk of a Green New Deal in its infancy, while putting Democrats on the spot.
2) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, not a member of the U.S. Senate, and thus she had no opportunity to vote on the cloture motion at all.
In short, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t “neglect” or “forget” to participate in the referenced Green New Deal vote: she wasn’t eligible to take part in it because she isn’t a member of the Senate. Nor was the vote that took place in the Senate one that directly addressed the merits or deficiencies of her Green New Deal resolution.