8. Back to climate change politics for a moment
As I noted above, an early flashpoint heading into the new Congress is over Sen. Joe Manchin's possible ascension to top Democrat on the energy committee — and potential chairmanship if the party takes the Senate in 2020.
The latest: Some climate activists are pressing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer not to let that happen, and young demonstrators with the Sunrise Movement gathered outside his New York City office yesterday to make their case.
Quick take: It's something of a tempest in a teapot, but more on that in a moment.
Where it stands: Manchin has a path if the current top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell, wants the ranking slot on the Commerce Committee next year (which is open because Sen. Bill Nelson lost his re-election).
Meanwhile, other energy panel Democrats with more seniority than Manchin look keen to keep their ranking spots elsewhere for now, including Sanders on the Budget Committee.
My thought bubble: This is much ado about ... not all that much. Manchin isn't likely to prove pivotal to trajectory of a sweeping climate and energy bill.
- There's only one obvious avenue for Democrats to pass major climate legislation absent a major shift in GOP thinking: Taking the White House and the Senate in 2020 and keeping the House.
- If that happens, Manchin's position won't be pivotal even if he's chairman — and even that's a big "if" because a more senior member could decide to shove him aside if Democrats regained the chamber.
The intrigue: Keep in mind that...
- Large portions of this hypothetical bill would likely be written in other committees — notably Environment and Public Works, and Finance (which controls tax policy).
- Energy provisions that Manchin opposes could still be added on the floor through amendments.
But, but, but: If lefty activists are hoping to see Democrats lay the PR groundwork for pushing through something sweeping if they ever regain full control, it's certainly true that Manchin would be a pretty imperfect messenger.
The bottom line: Sure, Manchin's potential role as the panel's top Democrat — and would-be chairman — is relevant. But it's hardly decisive.
What they're saying: I asked the Sunrise Movement to respond to my thesis that Manchin's potential role isn't really a big deal one way or the other.
- "We have 12 years to transform our economy and move away from fossil fuels in order to give our generation a livable future," said Sunrise spokesman Stephen O'Hanlon in an email.
- "To do that, we need broad, coordinated government action — not patchwork legislation held up by a committee chair backed by the oil and gas lobby," he said.