For months, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has been pushing the Democratic Party to dedicate one of its 2020 presidential primary debates to climate change — the looming global crisis on which he has staked his presidential campaign.
The concept had gained traction with several fellow 2020 Democratic contenders, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have backed Inslee’s calls for a climate debate.
But the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has quashed the idea.
Inslee announced Wednesday that his campaign had received a call from a DNC official saying it will not host a climate debate. Further, the DNC warned if Inslee participates in any other group’s climate debate “we will not be invited to future debates,” according to the Inslee campaign statement.
“This is deeply disappointing. The DNC is silencing the voices of Democratic activists, many of our progressive partner organizations, and nearly half of the Democratic presidential field, who want to debate the existential crisis of our time,” Inslee said in the statement.
As he has throughout the campaign, Inslee argued that making climate merely one issue among many in the 2020 election will rob it of the attention it deserves.
“We’ve kicked the can down the road for too long. The climate crisis merits a full discussion of our plans, not a short exchange of talking points,” he said.
The rejection came a day after Inslee had sent a public letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez, asking that he designate one of the first four Democratic debates to climate policy. Inslee requested a response by June 11. He didn’t have to wait that long.
In a statement, DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said “the DNC will not be holding entire debates on a single issue area because we want to make sure voters have the ability to hear from candidates on dozens of issues of importance to American voters.”
Inslee campaign spokesman Jared Leopold said there was no immediate plan in the works for a non-DNC-sanctioned climate debate.
Inslee is set to appear in the first Democratic presidential debate scheduled later this month in Miami. He met DNC-set qualifications by reaching 1 percent in three qualifying polls and garnering donations from more than 65,000 donors. Those same qualifications make him eligible for the second debate set for July in Detroit.
But it’s less clear whether Inslee will make it to the next round of debates this fall as the DNC seeks to winnow weaker contenders from the field of 23-candidates.
The DNC recently announced a doubling of the polling and donor numbers required to make the third and fourth primary debates scheduled for September and October. Inslee so far has remained mired near the bottom in polling, registering at 1 percent or less in a series of early national and early-state polls.
Although it has not translated into political momentum, Inslee has garnered praise from climate activists and some experts for releasing a series of detailed plans for how he’d make combating global warming the central organizing principle of the U.S. government if elected president.
His platform includes a swift national transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and transportation, with a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, and a phaseout of coal by 2030. It also calls for $9 trillion in public and private spending over a decade to achieve those goals.
Campaigning in New York City on Wednesday, Inslee rolled out another portion of that agenda, calling for a reordering of U.S. foreign policy around the climate crisis, including the use of tariffs and other tools to pressure other nations to reduce use of coal and other fossil fuels.
“Our goal is to re-establish American leadership in the fight against climate crisis and use all the tools in the international relations toolbox,” Inslee told The Associated Press.