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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The total absence of energy and climate questions in last night's Democratic debate didn't prevent the topics from surfacing in noteworthy ways onstage and in the surrounding hubbub.

What happened: Some campaigns saw an opening. Bernie Sanders wove climate into several answers and attacked fossil fuel CEOs who "know full well that their product is destroying this world."

  • His campaign tried to make sure people noticed. Policy director Josh Orton tweeted about Sanders' "preemptively" raising it and argued, "Bernie is the climate candidate."

And billionaire activist Tom Steyer was clearly going to say something about climate — a big focus of his work — in the low-polling hopeful's first debate.During a stretch about Russia, Steyer pivoted to call climate "the most important international problem that we're facing."

  • Steyer noted the U.S. can't solve the crisis alone but will have to lead on several fronts. He said the U.S. needs to work with allies and "frenemies." (Checkmate on the youth vote!)

Between the lines: I doubt this was spontaneous. Moments after his comments, Steyer's campaign emailed around his international climate plan released last month.

  • Why it matters: There were scattered references from other candidates, too. Politically, the appeals signal the topic's importance to the primary base.

The backlash: Activists and some journalists bashed debate hosts CNN and the New York Times for asking nothing, given the extraordinary stakes.

  • Washington Post media analyst Erik Wemple said via Twitter: "Tonight's proceedings are sounding like a convincing argument that there really should be a dedicated climate-change debate."
  • This reopens the wounds over the DNC's rejection of calls to sanction a climate-specific debate.
  • The omission was surprising because the NYT is institutionally committed to climate coverage. CNN held a 7-hour candidate town hall on climate on Sept. 4, so maybe that lowered the odds.

Go deeper

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.