On Thursday, House Republicans released a six-pronged strategy to combat climate change. The plan is the culmination of months of organizing in two overlapping groups: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s policy-driven task force and Rep. John Curtis’ education-focused Conservative Climate Caucus.
But caucus leaders have run into an unexpected problem: disinterest from Democrats.
In the nine months since forming his caucus, Curtis, R-Utah, views his efforts to engage fellow Republicans in addressing climate change as a major success. He and other caucus members have traveled to Europe twice to meet with global leaders, and the caucus — now boasting over 70 members — is the Hill’s second-largest, Curtis said.
“I’m surprised we haven’t been invited into the White House to talk with (President Joe Biden),” he said. “We welcome that conversation. I actually think we have some ideas that can be very helpful for him.”
Despite a brief visit with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm — a “really good meeting,” Curtis said — caucus members remain frustrated that Biden, who has called climate change a top focus of his administration, appears unwilling to engage with those outside of his party.
Republicans have long battled a reputation of climate disinterest or inaction, particularly during the Trump administration. In the Senate, a push to involve Republicans in negotiating a climate bill — spearheaded by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — drew ire from Democrats who viewed it as futile. “(Republicans) are just not capable of that,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told Politico recently. “There’s literally nothing happening in the bipartisan effort.”
Thursday’s strategic plan from Republicans also drew jeers from those on the left, who view the plan as “out of touch with reality.”
“I welcome the efforts of anyone, regardless of party, who is willing to seriously tackle climate change — but on its face this does not look like a serious proposal,” Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., told The Washington Post.
But efforts by House Republicans to coalesce on climate solutions far precede Thursday’s breakthrough. The idea first came in late 2020, while Curtis was hiking in Utah with Benji Backer, the founder of the American Conservation Coalition.
“We were talking about the need for conservatives to kind of gather and bring a coalition together of the people who want to do something on climate,” Backer said, and a Republican-only caucus appeared like a good first step.
The following February, Curtis tested the waters by hosting a secret climate summit in Utah, later leaked to the press, with 25 other House Republicans. The event was a success, Curtis said, and the participants agreed to create a formal coalition in Congress to work on climate issues.
The caucus’ members say its main goal — at least for the first year — is education, beginning with helping Republicans to get “comfortable” talking about climate-related issues, Curtis said. But he recognizes many Republicans remain reticent to even discussing climate, due to potential ramifications among their conservative supporters.
“I would love to speak with (Biden )directly about this. That’s apparently not the way Washington works.” — Rep. Blake Moore
“If you say ‘climate’ to a room full of Republicans, it is no different — think about this — than saying ‘the (border) wall’ to a room full of Democrats. Their chest tightens up,” Curtis said in a Deseret News event in April.
Utah — where all four members of the state’s House delegation are members of the climate caucus — is facing a severe drought, the ongoing threat of wildfires and concerns over air quality.
In the caucus’ meetings held almost weekly, speakers from outside groups are invited to discuss climate issues and educate members. Multiple presentations have focused on specific, “non-divisive” language members should use when speaking to Republican audiences, a person close to the caucus said.
Past participants in those meetings include ClearPath, a conservative nonprofit organization focused on clean energy. “We’ve presented a bunch of our polling and messaging work to help folks understand how to talk about these issues in ways that work with their constituents,” Rich Powell, CEO of ClearPath, said.
McCarthy’s Energy, Climate and Conservation task force, which released its six-part strategy heading into the midterms Thursday, is mostly made up of members of the Conservative Climate Caucus.
A delegation made up of caucus members attended the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last October, and another group traveled to Brussels in February at the invitation of the European Union. Both trips were “fascinating,” Curtis said, who participated in both.
But as Republicans find leaders willing to engage with them abroad, they express frustration with the White House’s apparent lack of interest, especially as Biden struggles to rally sufficient support to pass the climate-related parts of his agenda.
“I don’t like just talking into the ether out there about my frustrations with (Biden’s) decisions,” Rep. Blake Moore, a caucus member, said. “I would love to speak with (Biden) directly about this. That’s apparently not the way Washington works. And you haven’t seen any willingness from the Democrat side to really engage or get better, more sound direction on this topic from the Biden administration.”