Biden skipping MSNBC climate forum for fundraiser

He's holding his own climate forum in Iowa instead.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is not the only major Democratic presidential hopeful who’s skipping MSNBC’s candidate forum on climate change this week. But he is, as far as I can tell, the only major Democratic presidential candidate who’s skipping it to attend a private fundraising lunch in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago.

UPDATE, Tuesday 8AM: Biden now appears to be holding his own climate forum in Iowa on Friday.

Welcome to HEATED.

First, a throwback.

Remember when climate activists read Senator Kamala Harris for filth over her decision to skip CNN’s Climate Crisis Town Hall in favor of fundraisers in Los Angeles?

I remember, because I was surprised at how quickly the shaming worked. In the face of mounting pressure, Harris’s campaign reversed its decision to skip the town hall. And for the first time in American electoral history, every major Democratic presidential candidate was confronted with questions about the reality of the climate crisis, and forced to rigorously defend their qualifications to address it.


Three weeks later…

The candidates have an opportunity to make history again, by participating in MSNBC’s Climate Forum 2020. It’s a two-day event on Thursday and Friday, structured similarly to the CNN town hall and moderated by network anchors Ali Velshi and Chris Hayes.

This time, however, five major contenders say they’re skipping out: Biden, Harris, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

The candidate no-shows don’t seem to have irked the climate community as much this time around. Indeed, even the most relentless climate activists are being pretty chill about it. On Monday, Sunrise Movement Stephen O’Hanlon told the Guardian he understands that candidates might have scheduling conflicts with the MSNBC climate forum. “The CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall forced all the candidates to put forward serious plans to tackle the climate crisis and answer questions from voters on them,” he said. “That was historic.”


What are the candidates prioritizing over climate, exactly?

Some of conflicts with the climate forum are understandable—or, at the very least, morally defensible.

O’Rourke, for example, will be “touring California, visiting a state prison and the skid row section of Los Angeles” on Thursday and Friday, the Washington Post reported. And on Friday, Harris, Biden, Warren and Klobuchar are attending an LGBTQ policy forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

But at least three other Democratic candidates are attending the LGBTQ forum on Friday and participating in the MSNBC climate forum on Thursday. So why can’t Harris, Biden, Warren and Klobuchar do the same? What are they doing on Thursday that’s more important than talking about the climate crisis on the second-most-watched cable network in the country?

Here’s what I was able to find.

  • Harris is hosting two town halls in Iowa starting at 3:30 on Thursday, according to her public schedule.

  • Klobuchar will be on her post-debate “Blue Wall Tour,” where she focuses on winning blue states that Donald Trump flipped last election. On Thursday, she’ll be touring the Nicholson Terminal & Dock in Detroit, Michigan in the morning, and doing an unspecified event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the afternoon.

  • Warren, according to her spokesperson Saloni Sharma, has a town hall at the University of Iowa. Sharma said Warren would “have a specific stop to talk about how we take on climate change” during her Iowa tour, but did not give details on where or when.

  • Biden is doing a fundraising lunch with the Illinois Tenth Congressional District Democrats. Individual tickets start at $1,000; but if you kick in $2,800, you get a photo, according to the online invite. (UPDATE Tuesday 8am: Biden, like Warren, is also holding his own climate town hall on Friday before the LGBTQ forum.)


Fundraising faux pas part deux.

Beyond the minimum ticket price, details of Biden’s Thursday fundraiser are hard to come by. And Biden’s team did not return my requests for comment on why an Illinois fundraiser takes precedent over a journalist-moderated climate change forum.

This also isn’t the first time Biden has been caught between a forum and a fundraiser. During CNN’s climate town hall two weeks ago, a Bernie Sanders supporter called out the vice president for scheduling a fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, a co-founder of a liquefied natural gas production company, the day after the climate forum.

“How can we trust you to hold these corporations accountable when you are holding a high-dollar fundraiser held by … a fossil fuel executive?” the Sanders supporter asked. Biden said he did not realize Goldman was a fossil fuel executive. The exchange caused Sanders supporters to accuse Biden of breaking his pledge not to take money from fossil fuel interests during his campaign; a charge Biden denies.

It should be noted, though, that the bottom of the invitation for Thursday’s fundraiser states expressly that “The campaign does not accept contributions from … SEC-named executives of fossil fuel companies (i.e., companies whose primary business is the extraction, processing, distribution or sale of oil, gas or coal).” And Biden does have one of the more progressive climate plans of the 2020 Democratic field.

But Biden is also still clearly mistrusted by many climate activists who don’t believe he’s truly committed to the cause. Fortunately, if he (or any other non-attending candidate) wants to prove them wrong, the invitation is still on the table.

OK, that’s all for now—thanks so much for reading HEATED!

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See you guys tomorrow.