CONGRESS

Climate club: Sincere or just politically convenient?

A Sierra Club official last month complained that the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus is a convenient way for Republicans to take political cover, since their leaders have no intention of addressing climate change.

Regardless of the motives of the 31 Republicans who have joined the caucus along with 31 Democrats, the political incentives are clear.

Many of the Republicans who have signed on are vulnerable in 2018, running for re-election in swing districts where climate action is broadly popular — if not an existential imperative. So going on the record as being concerned about climate change is, at a minimum, a wise political move.

"Most of the vulnerable Republicans represent districts that are competitive or even Democratic-leaning, and they are looking for ways to carve out their own image that's different from the national Republican Party or the GOP establishment brand," said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan political tip sheet. "Breaking from the party on climate change may cause voters in those districts to take a second look."

In an election cycle that is currently looking pretty good for Democrats, 30 of the 31 districts held by Republican climate caucus members are among the 91 seats being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Democrats need to flip two dozen GOP-held seats to win control of the House.

Advertisement

But even if the Democratic hit list appears quite ambitious, the numbers are pretty stark for Republicans. The Cook Political Report currently counts 79 House districts in play in 2018 — 16 seats held by Democrats, 63 held by Republicans.

Nineteen Republican members of the climate caucus are currently in competitive races, by Cook's account. The districts of two of the GOP caucus members who are retiring are major Democratic pickup opportunities.

Several of the other members' districts have been competitive in recent elections and could become so again if a Democratic wave develops. At most, a handful of the Republican climate caucus members' districts appear completely out of reach for the Democrats this cycle.

Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce lashed out at the climate caucus late last month when freshman Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who introduced legislation earlier this year to eliminate U.S. EPA, joined. The caucus has yet to collectively advance any proposal for addressing warming, though individual members of both parties have.

"The supposed Climate Solutions Caucus is welcome to add any member they'd like — even climate deniers who propose legislation to terminate the EPA," Pierce said at the time. "But until the silent half of the caucus backs up the name of the caucus with actual votes for clean energy solutions and against the fossil fuel industry, being a member will be nothing more than a line on representatives' resumes."

But leaders of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, which helped create the bipartisan caucus, responded that the more members they can recruit, regardless of their public position on global warming, the better (E&E Daily, Nov. 28).

Precarious position for GOP

Chris Martin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said there is no concerted GOP strategy on climate change and that strategists have offered no advice to members on how to address the issue — on Capitol Hill or on the campaign trail.

"We tell people to vote their district," he said.

Martin added that he hasn't seen Democrats attacking House Republicans on climate change as much as they have in the recent past and said of members of the caucus, "I commend them for taking steps to address climate change."

Both Gonzales and Martin suggested that other issues will be more decisive in the battle for control of the House.

"Right now, this election is about taxes and health care," Martin said.

Still, the political risks for the GOP this cycle are undeniable, and congressional Republicans could be playing defense on a variety of fronts. The fact is, a significant number of Republican members of the climate caucus could be gone in the next Congress — which could change the dynamic and debate over the issue yet again.

Three Republican members of the caucus are retiring next year. The Columbus-area district of Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) is almost certain to remain in GOP hands, even though it is on the DCCC's ambitious target list.

But the districts of Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) could easily flip. The Cook Political Report rates Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based district "lean Democrat," and it calls Reichert's suburban Seattle district a "toss-up."

Here are snapshot looks at the re-election prospects of the 28 other Republican members of the climate caucus. They are listed in the order of which they joined the caucus.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo — 2nd term, Florida's 26th District

2016 winning percentage: 53%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 56%, Trump 40%

2016 League of Conservation Voters score: 53%

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Curbelo, the co-chairman and co-founder of the caucus, is, along with Ros-Lehtinen, the most vocal in the House GOP about the necessity of addressing climate change — and particularly sea-level rise. Politically, he has proven to be lucky so far. He was a top Democratic target in 2016, but the party had a flawed challenger. Curbelo is again a major target, but right now most of the top-tier Democrats in the Miami area are running for the open seat of retiring Ros-Lehtinen. Curbelo had a robust $1.3 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Rep. Ryan Costello — 2nd term, Pennsylvania's 6th District

2016 winning percentage: 57%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 48%, Trump 47%

2016 LCV score: 39%

Cook Political Report rating: Lean Republican

Democrats think Costello, whose district extends from the Philadelphia suburbs to the Reading area, is ripe for the taking. The DCCC put him on its "Red to Blue" list — an early compilation of the party's top dozen pickup opportunities. National Democrats are high on Air Force veteran and nonprofit executive Chrissy Houlahan, though construction executive Bob Dettore is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Houlahan has been raising money at a rapid pace for a challenger, with $662,000 on hand as of Sept. 30 — including $50,000 from her own pocket. But Costello was sitting on almost $1.2 million. Last week, Costello was one of three lead authors of a letter 10 House Republicans sent to congressional GOP leaders, urging them to keep drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge out of the tax reform legislation that is making its way through Congress.

Rep. Patrick Meehan — 4th term, Pennsylvania's 7th District

2016 winning percentage: 60%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 49%, Trump 47%

2016 LCV score: 29%

Cook Political Report rating: Lean Republican

Meehan is a former aide to the late Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican turned Democrat, and he is a moderate Republican in the same mold. But Democrats believe they can score on the ex-college hockey player and one-time National Hockey League referee in his suburban Philadelphia district. There's a five-way primary brewing, with state Sen. Daylin Leach the best-known of the Democratic candidates. Meehan was sitting on more than $2.4 million as of Sept. 30. Meehan talks about environmental issues fairly regularly on his website and said President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement "diminishes America's leadership role on the world stage."

Rep. Lee Zeldin — 2nd term, New York's 1st District

2016 winning percentage: 58%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 54%, Clinton 42%

2016 LCV score: 8%

Cook Political Report rating: Likely Republican

Zeldin appears strong at the moment, but his district, on the eastern end of Long Island, is one of the swingiest of swing districts in the Empire State, and he has moved to distance himself from Trump over the past several months. His vote against the Republican tax reform bill brought a rebuke from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who canceled a fundraiser for Zeldin last week. Zeldin is certainly mindful of coastal issues in his district, despite his low LCV score. Last month, he put pictures of his Capitol meeting with members of the Citizens' Climate Lobby from his district on his official website. At least seven Democrats are seeking his seat. Perry Gershon, a lending corporation executive, had the most cash on hand as of Sept. 30: $411,000 — including $60,000 from his own pocket. Zeldin had more than $1.1 million on hand.

Rep. Mark Amodei — 3rd full term, Nevada's 2nd District

2016 winning percentage: 58%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 52%, Clinton 40%

2016 LCV score: 3%

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

Amodei is the lone Republican in the Silver State's House delegation and is probably safe in any general election. If anything, he probably faces more danger in the GOP primary, where former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, an early tea party leader, is taking him on. Amodei has a long section on his official website about "responsible stewardship" of the environment and touts legislation to create new wilderness areas in his Reno-area district. Of climate change, he writes, "I do not believe it is appropriate for the federal government to advocate one position over another in discussions of climate change. I do think that we should promote unbiased scientific research funded by both the government and the private sector to help answer climate change questions and bring effective solutions to any human causes."

Rep. Mia Love — 2nd term, Utah's 4th District

2016 winning percentage: 54%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 39%, Clinton 32%

2016 LCV score: 3%

Cook Political Report rating: Lean Republican

Love represents a solidly conservative district in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, yet cannot solidify her political standing. She has spoken out lately against the Interior Department proposal to hike entrance fees at certain national parks but has not had much to say about climate. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is her likely Democratic challenger. Love has struggled with fundraising to date, with just $312,000 on hand as of Sept. 30 — low for a vulnerable Republican incumbent.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — 1st term, Pennsylvania's 8th District

2016 winning percentage: 54%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 48%, Clinton 48%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Lean Republican

Fitzpatrick, a freshman who took over the suburban Philadelphia seat from his brother, ex-Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R), was an early co-sponsor of a House GOP measure urging congressional leaders to address climate change and also co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to prevent drilling in ANWR. Democrats have targeted his seat for several cycles, but except for 2007-2011, it has been held for decades by moderate Republicans. Democrats are very high on their likely nominee, Rachel Reddick, an attorney and Navy veteran. Through Sept. 30, Fitzpatrick had $970,000 in the bank.

Rep. Elise Stefanik — 2nd term, New York's 21st District

2016 winning percentage: 65%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 53%, Clinton 39%

2016 LCV score: 29%

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

Stefanik's scenic district, which borders Canada and takes in the Adirondack Park, has been pretty competitive for several election cycles and went Democratic in the last few White House races before Trump's surprisingly easy victory last year. Stefanik has benefited from having tepid Democratic opponents so far, whose support was diluted by an active Green Party nominee. Stefanik has worked hard to vote the interests of her district. She was a lead sponsor of the House GOP climate resolution and has also worked on forestry and conservation issues. Democrats aren't showing many signs of contesting the race just yet, even though seven candidates are currently running. Stefanik banked more than $1 million as of Sept. 30.

Rep. Brian Mast — 1st term, Florida's 18th District

2016 winning percentage: 54%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 53%, Clinton 44%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Likely Republican

Mast won a Palm Beach-area seat last year that had previously been held by a Democrat. An Army veteran who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, Mast has been raising money at a furious pace and reported $921,000 on hand as of Sept. 30. Democrats vying to run against him include attorney Lauren Baer, a former State Department official whose family runs a well-known South Florida furniture business, and Pam Keith, a Navy veteran and attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Senate last year. On his website, Mast calls the Climate Solutions Caucus "an important tool to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation's economy, security, infrastructure and environment."

Rep. Don Bacon — 1st term, Nebraska's 2nd District

2016 winning percentage: 49%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 47%, Clinton 45%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Bacon ousted one-term Rep. Brad Ashford (D), who is seeking a rematch in the Omaha-based district. Neither has set the world on fire on the fundraising front: As of Sept. 30, Bacon had $488,000 in the bank. Bacon prominently touts his membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus on his campaign website and calls his work to find bipartisan solutions to climate change a fulfillment of a campaign promise. Bacon expressed disappointment when Trump pulled out of the Paris accord but wasn't as vehement as some of his GOP colleagues. "We should have kept a seat at the table to advocate our interests and fix the problems with the current agreement that put us at an economic disadvantage with other countries," he said. "Regardless, I am confident our nation will continue to pursue more environmentally friendly energy solutions."

Rep. Darrell Issa — 9th term, California's 49th District

2016 winning percentage: 50%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 50%, Trump 43%

2016 LCV score: 3%

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Some cynics have called Issa's decision to join the caucus a deathbed conversion, since he was highly critical of the Obama administration's environment and energy policies as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But with Issa's San Diego-area district now heavily in play — he never got less than 58 percent of the vote until last year's near-defeat — he is clearly trying to moderate some of his positions. On the environmental front, Issa has been touting his legislation to clean up the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station — though his website still includes harsh criticism of Obama-era policies. Four Democrats are running aggressively to take Issa on, including Doug Applegate, the attorney and Iraq War veteran who came within 1,600 votes of ousting him last time. Another leading Democratic contender is Mike Levin, director of government affairs at FuelCell Energy Inc., a clean energy company. Issa reported $852,000 in his campaign account as of Sept. 30, but the number is largely immaterial, as he is one of the three or four richest members of Congress, with an easy ability to self-fund if necessary.

Rep. Rodney Davis — 3rd term, Illinois' 13th District

2016 winning percentage: 60%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 49%, Clinton 44%

2016 LCV score: 3%

Cook Political Report rating: Likely Republican

Davis, a former aide to Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), is a fairly conventional Main Street Republican in a fairly middle-of-the-road district in west-central Illinois. But it's the type of district that could become uncomfortable for Republicans if 2018 is a wave election. Five Democrats are running; the leading contenders for now appear to be Erik Jones, a former congressional committee staffer, and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a former aide to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Davis had more than $1 million on hand as of Sept. 30, more than five times as much as his potential Democratic foes.

Rep. John Faso, 1st term, New York's 19th District

2016 winning percentage: 54%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 50%, Clinton 44%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Faso, a veteran politician, won a spirited and expensive race in this Hudson Valley district against Zephyr Teachout (D), a law school professor and progressive icon, to replace ex-Rep. Chris Gibson (R), one of the first House Republicans to talk meaningfully about climate change. Democrats are bullish about their prospects of winning the district next fall, but they must first sort through a crowded primary with several aggressive contenders. As of Sept. 30, five Democrats had more than $172,000 in the bank, led by businessman Brian Flynn, with $911,000 on hand, and attorney Antonio Delgado, with $881,000. Faso, by contrast, reported $572,000. Faso has worked aggressively on local environmental cleanup issues and called Trump's decision to withdraw from Paris "ill-advised."

Rep. Peter King — 13th term, New York's 2nd District

2016 winning percentage: 62%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 53%, Clinton 44%

2016 LCV score: 13%

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

King, a pugnacious senior lawmaker, won easily last year but occasionally has to sweat re-election. His district voted for President Obama twice, and the likely Democratic nominee, lighting company executive Tim Gomes, has dropped $1 million of his own money into the campaign. (King had $2.7 million on hand as of Sept. 30.) In a wave year, King could be in trouble. He was highly critical of his Republican colleagues when they moved slowly to provide Superstorm Sandy relief in 2013 and has criticized the Trump administration on its response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Rep. Tom Reed — 4th term, New York's 23rd District

2016 winning percentage: 58%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 54%, Clinton 39%

2016 LCV score: 8%

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

Reed, who represents New York's Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, is a centrist who keeps his head down. Democrats have talked about trying to take him on but without much success so far. There are seven Democrats currently running against him, but none has done any significant fundraising. Reed, a former mayor of Corning, had $852,000 on hand as of Sept. 30. The Republican has mainly voted with his caucus on energy and environmental matters. On his website, he says, "We must use all available resources to diversify our energy portfolio and support the American economy, while at the same time protecting our environment with reasonable regulations."

Rep. Mike Coffman — 5th term, Colorado's 6th District

2016 winning percentage: 51%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 50%, Trump 41%

2016 LCV score: 3%

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Coffman has been a top Democratic target for the last few election cycles, and each time his challengers have fallen just short. He is on the DCCC's "Red to Blue" hit list, making his race a top priority. Democrats must sort through a crowded primary, though attorney and Iraq War veteran Jason Crow leads the money chase, with $393,000 on hand as of Sept. 30. (Coffman reported $722,000.) On his website, Coffman, who represents a suburban Denver district, writes, "There is no question that climate change is real and a factor that negatively impacts our environment. The U.S. should take all practical efforts to reduce carbon emissions and improve the quality of our global environment."

Rep. Mike Gallagher, 1st term, Wisconsin's 8th District

2016 winning percentage: 63%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 56%, Clinton 38%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

Gallagher easily won what was supposed to be a close race, and there's no sign yet that a competitive race is emerging in the Green Bay-area district. But it's one of those districts that can swing to the Democrats in a wave election. Gallagher has made cleaning up Green Bay and Lake Michigan from phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment major environmental priorities.

Rep. Claudia Tenney, 1st term, New York's 22nd District

2016 winning percentage: 47%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 54%, Clinton 39%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Lean Republican

Tenney is a major Democratic target, an early entrant on the DCCC's "Red to Blue" list. She represents an upstate New York district once held by former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican who was beloved by environmentalists. Her immediate predecessor, ex-Rep. Richard Hanna (R), was considerably more moderate — and he once suggested that Tenney was unelectable there. She proved him wrong, but Democrats hope to prove him right. A DCCC poll in October showed state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D) with a narrow lead over Tenney. Through Sept. 30, Tenney had $527,000 in the bank to Brindisi's $399,000.

Rep. Scott Taylor — 1st term, Virginia's 2nd District

2016 winning percentage: 61%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 48%, Clinton 45%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Likely Republican

Taylor cannot be happy with last month's election results in Virginia, which saw a Republican state lawmaker from his area who was a hero to environmentalists lose to a Democrat just because of his party affiliation. The 2nd District, based in the Hampton Roads area, has traditionally been good to Republicans. The district is among the most vulnerable in the country to sea-level rise, and Taylor has worked to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program and criticized the Trump budget for eliminating funding for Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Taylor caught a break politically when the leading Democrat seeking to replace him, retired Air Force officer Dave Belote, abruptly dropped out of the race last month for family reasons.

Rep. Barbara Comstock — 2nd term, Virginia's 10th District

2016 winning percentage: 53%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 52%, Trump 42%

2016 LCV score: 3%

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Comstock is one of the Democrats' biggest targets this cycle, and they have a multitude of candidates looking to take her on. Comstock represents a suburban district outside of Washington, and she has tried to present herself as a moderate. But legislative races in and around her district broke decisively in the Democrats' favor last month, and that could be a harbinger of what's to come. Comstock was sitting on $987,000 as of Sept. 30, but four Democrats had each banked at least $341,000.

Rep. David Joyce — 3rd term, Ohio's 14th District

2016 winning percentage: 63%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 53%, Clinton 42%

2016 LCV score: 5%

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

Joyce, the son of a coal salesman, appears to be one of the safest Republicans in the Climate Solutions Caucus. He represents a district along Lake Erie, and he was chief sponsor of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which Obama signed into law in 2016. Betsy Rader, an attorney, is the likely Democratic nominee.

Rep. Leonard Lance — 5th term, New Jersey's 7th District

2016 winning percentage: 54%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 48%, Trump 47%

2016 LCV score: 13%

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Lance is one of four House Republicans currently serving who voted for the cap-and-trade legislation in 2009 and has always been moderate on environmental and social issues. Democrats have eight candidates seeking to take him on in the suburban district, but it isn't clear yet who will emerge from the primary.

Rep. Steve Knight — 2nd term, California's 25th District

2016 winning percentage: 53%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 50%, Trump 43%

2016 LCV score: 0%

Cook Political Report rating: Toss-up

Democrats invested a little in Knight's northern Los Angeles County district last year, but they plan to take a closer look this time around. Knight's district went for Hillary Clinton over Trump by a pretty wide margin, after going for Mitt Romney over Obama by 2 points in 2012. Knight caught flak during the last election for the government's slow response to the massive methane leak at a natural gas facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood in his district (E&E Daily, April 4, 2016). Several Democrats are running this time, including 2016 nominee Bryan Caforio, an attorney.

Rep. Ed Royce — 13th term, California's 39th District

2016 winning percentage: 57%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 51%, Trump 43%

2016 LCV score: 5%

Cook Political Report rating: Lean Republican

Royce's winning percentage, against a Democrat whom he outspent almost 50-1, was his lowest since his first election, in 1992. Add to that Clinton's strong showing over Trump, and Democrats smell blood — even with Royce's status as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In a district that touches parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties and has never been a political battleground before, Democrats have several strong contenders running, including businessman Andy Thorburn, who had $1.9 million in his account on Sept. 30 after he loaned the campaign $2 million; Gil Cisneros, a retired Navy officer who won millions from a lottery ticket and became a philanthropist; and Mai-Khanh Tran, a pediatrician. Royce, who had $3.4 million in the bank, has been working on flood control and wildfire issues at the local level.

Rep. Chris Collins — 3rd term, New York's 27th District

2016 winning percentage: 67%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 59%, Clinton 35%

2016 LCV score: 0%

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

Collins was one of Trump's earliest supporters in Congress and remains one of his staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill. He's a reliable conservative who retains a dose of pragmatism from his days as a self-made millionaire and as an Erie County executive.

Rep. Jack Bergman — 1st term, Michigan's 1st District

2016 winning percentage: 55%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 58%, Clinton 36%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

Bergman, whose district takes in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, won an easier-than-expected race in 2016 and doesn't appear to have a major challenge in 2018. However, conservative Democrats have held the district in the not-too-distant past, and Michigan has an unpredictable gubernatorial election on tap. With a district that touches three Great Lakes and has abundant wildlife, Bergman has spoken frequently about pipeline safety, invasive species, the fishing industry and improvement of locks.

Rep. Mimi Walters, 2nd term, California's 45th District

2016 winning percentage: 59%

District's 2016 White House vote: Clinton 49%, Trump 44%

2016 LCV score: 5%

Cook Political Report rating: Lean Republican

Walters is one of several Southern California Republicans who find themselves more vulnerable than they imagined they would be — but that's part of the changing nature of the region. She's got no less than five Democrats running serious campaigns to take her on. A member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Walters had $1.4 million in the bank on Sept. 30.

Rep. Matt Gaetz — 1st term, Florida's 1st District

2016 winning percentage: 69%

District's 2016 White House vote: Trump 67%, Clinton 28%

2016 LCV score: NA

Cook Political Report rating: Safe Republican

It was Gaetz's decision to join the Climate Solutions Caucus, after lambasting EPA, that prompted the Sierra Club's criticism of the caucus and its role. But in a very conservative Panhandle district, he should have no trouble earning a second term.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Latest Selected Headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines