Election deniers on the climate change caucus

Seven of Congress’s election disinformers were members of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus last year.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks in defense of Trump from his first impeachment on January 23, 2020. Stefanik voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and is a recent member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

Last week, a HEATED investigation found that most of the 147 Republican members of Congress who spread disinformation about the 2020 presidential election also routinely spread disinformation about human-caused climate change.

But not every lawmaker who voted to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory is an outspoken climate change denier.

In fact, seven of Congress’s election disinformers were card-carrying members of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus last year—and will be this year, too, if membership renews for the 117th Congress.

This fact is causing outrage among some members of the volunteer-based Citizens Climate Lobby, which helped form the caucus in 2016.

It’s also raising important questions about the need for bipartisanship as Congress heads into the most important legislative session for climate action in our lifetimes.

The election deniers in the climate caucus

Representatives David Schweikert (R-AZ), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Jack Bergman (R-MI), Bill Posey (R-FL), Brian Mast (R-FL), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) all voted to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, thereby embracing the fringe conspiracy theory that caused a pro-Trump mob to attack the Capitol.

They also all claim to be working to solve the climate crisis, a problem spurred in large part by lawmakers who embrace disinformation and conspiracy theory.

Volunteers with the non-profit Citizens Climate Lobby have already noticed the overlap. “Our supporters are very upset about the attack on the Capitol, and many of them are infuriated at the members of Congress who voted not to certify the election,” CCL Communications Director Flannery Winchester told HEATED in an email. She said some volunteers “are choosing not to meet with those members of Congress anymore,” while others “are choosing to continue meeting with them to try to demonstrate what democracy should look like and how it should function.”

The choice of whether lawmakers who voted to overturn Biden’s victory will be allowed to rejoin the Climate Solution Caucus does not lie with CCL, Winchester noted. She said it lies with Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who chairs the caucus.

HEATED reached out to Rep. Deutch’s office to ask if lawmakers who embrace conspiracy theory about the presidential election deserve a seat at the table for bipartisan climate solutions when the caucus reorganizes for the 117th Congress and have not received a response.

A “groundbreaking” or “meaningless” caucus?

Formed in 2016, the House Climate Solutions Caucus seeks to end partisan gridlock over climate policy. It’s “a judgment-free zone,” said Mark Reynolds, the executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Climate Lobby, which helped form the caucus. “It has the potential to be an incubator for bipartisan solutions that stand a good chance of passage.” (The Senate formed its own bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in 2019).

But the Climate Solutions Caucus has been anything but free of judgment. While it’s been called “groundbreaking and crucial” by bipartisan groups like the Environment and Energy Study Institute, other climate advocates—like RL Miller of Climate Hawks Vote—has called it “a meaningless caucus being used as political cover by vulnerable Republicans” who have never actually voted for climate legislation.

“We’ve been concerned that the Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus are less climate hawks than climate peacocks, posing and strutting with false concern to protect them from constituent anger,” she said in 2018. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has called it the “do-nothing” caucus.

Citizens Climate Lobby has historically said its critics aren’t accepting a harsh reality: that action on climate change will never happen without Republicans. “Obviously we want them to go beyond just joining the caucus,” the group’s communications director Steve Valk told me in 2018. “But to get them to do that, that’s really up to us, the constituents, to give them the support to grab the next piece of the ladder and climb up.”

But with a Democratic-controlled House, Senate, and presidency, will Republicans truly be needed to pass climate legislation? And if they are, should they all be treated equally?

Should Democrats trust lawmakers with a demonstrated inability to accept basic facts about the election to accept basic facts about the climate crisis? Is it possible to have good-faith policy disagreements with lawmakers who deny, or even downplay, reality?

The addition of “downplay” is important, because it serves the same purpose as denial. After all, it wasn’t just those who voted to overturn Biden’s victory who contributed to the lie of election fraud, and the violence that ensued.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, didn’t vote to decertify the election but pushed Trump’s false claims of fraud for months. Last week, he refused to apologize. Should he have a seat at the climate solutions table?

These are difficult, yet necessary questions as we head into the most important legislative session for climate action in our lifetimes. I don’t have the answers yet—but maybe you have some ideas. Leave them in the comments by clicking the button below. (Subscribers-only).

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