Politics

Senate Climate Hawk Ends 9-Year Speech, Citing Better Days Ahead Under Biden

WASHINGTON ― Few senators have been as vocal about the issue of climate change as Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. 

The three-term progressive Democrat has given a speech from the Senate floor almost every week the chamber has been in session since 2012, warning about the dangers of global warming, rising oceans and the influential fossil fuel industry bent on impeding bipartisan action to combat climate change.

On Wednesday, after 279 speeches about why it’s time to “wake up” as a country and finally confront the slow-rolling global disaster, Whitehouse dropped the mic ― literally ― and retired the long-running series.

“The conditions are at last — at last — in place for a real solution. A new dawn is breaking, and when it’s dawn, there’s no need for my little candle against the darkness,” Whitehouse said. “So instead of urging that it’s time to wake up, I close this long run by saying now it’s time to get to work.”

Whitehouse cited Joe Biden’s administration, which has pledged bold action on climate change, as a reason he would no longer be delivering weekly speeches on the topic. 

Biden signed several executive orders on Wednesday pausing oil and gas leasing on federal land and targeting subsidies for those industries. The actions also aim to double the nation’s offshore wind energy and move to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet, according to The Associated Press

Democrats are hoping Biden will go even further to advance his climate agenda. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) encouraged Biden to declare a national emergency when it comes to the climate, following President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the border. Trump used the emergency powers to unilaterally reappropriate funding for the construction of a border wall without the approval of Congress.

“He can do many, many things under the emergency powers … that he could do without legislation,” Schumer said of Biden in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. 

Biden’s administration is planning to take more action to address climate change in the new president’s infrastructure package, which is set to be unveiled in the coming months. But climate hawks like Whitehouse believe Democrats should tackle the issue head-on in a comprehensive climate bill. House Democrats passed a historic climate and energy bill in 2009, but it never got a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate at the time, primarily because the party feared the political blowback from Republicans. 

“Hope to God I won’t need to bring it back out,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said of his “Time To Wake Up” sign.

Whitehouse called the failure to bring the 2009 bill to a vote “the saddest political day of my life,” predicting Democrats “likely will” advance similar legislation this Congress. 

If that doesn’t happen, the senator vowed to dust off the worn “Time to Wake Up” sign he’s carried for years to the Senate floor and take up the call to fight climate change once more. 

“Hope to God I won’t need to bring it back out because the Biden administration went weak at the knees,” he told HuffPost on Wednesday with the sign in hand.


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