Voters and advocacy organizations alike expressed dismay Wednesday after the second round of Democratic primary debates kicked off with CNN asking few questions about two key issues Americans say they care about most in the 2020 election—the climate and women’s rights.
Over the course of more than two hours, the network’s debate moderators asked only three questions pertaining to the climate crisis and how the candidates plan to protect the planet, future generations, and American communities already facing rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to the crisis.
“Pushing climate change policy to the backburner for the second debate in a row is an insult to those dealing with extreme heatwaves, storms, and droughts right now and to future generations for whom everything is at stake.”
—Jack Shapiro, Greenpeace USACritics said the few seconds Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was permitted to discuss her green manufacturing plan and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was allowed to call on Washington to “take on the fossil fuel industry” were insufficient to counter claims that cutting fossil fuel emissions to net zero by 2050 is enough to solve the crisis and suggestions that eliminating gas-powered cars is unfeasible.
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“We are in a climate emergency and millions of people around the world are already suffering the consequences,” said Jack Shapiro, a campaigner for Greenpeace USA. “Pushing climate change policy to the backburner for the second debate in a row is an insult to those dealing with extreme heatwaves, storms, and droughts right now and to future generations for whom everything is at stake.”
“The lack of focus on climate change in this debate is so disheartening,” wrote Emily Barber, a voter in Arkansas. “Recent studies show we actually have closer to 18 months, not 12 years, to avoid irreversible catastrophe and yet—barely a cursory mention.”
The debate solidified many advocates’ belief that a discussion between candidates focusing solely on their plans to solve the climate crisis is necessary to give voters the information they need and deserve during the campaign.
“We must have a Democratic primary debate focused on climate change in order to truly have a substantive discussion that reaches the most people possible—not multi-day forums, cattle call town halls, or unwatched summits,” said CREDO Action campaign manager Jelani Drew-Davi in a statement.
“We desperately need an official climate debate in which informed moderators can press those vying to be our next president on how they will address this existential threat,” said Shapiro.
During the debate, climate journalists kept track of the lack of discussion about the fossil fuel industry and the billions of tons of carbon it pumps into the atmosphere annually, the melting glaciers in Iceland and Antarctica, and the Green New Deal, which would put Americans to work building a green infrastructure and technology sector that could help bring carbon emissions to net zero over 10 years.
The youth-led nationwide grassgroups organization Sunrise Movement pointed to protests outside the debate where demonstrators called for a substantive discussion of the Green New Deal and the climate crisis.
“Last night’s debate was outrageous and disappointing,” said Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash. “But the new coalitions that emerged outside of the debate made it clear that something big is happening and we’re shifting the ground under the political and media establishment.”
“The people are uniting around the Green New Deal. All we have to do now is get the Democratic Party to listen, to follow where their base is already leading by taking the climate crisis seriously and holding a climate debate.”
The group called on supporters to join the call for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to host a climate-focused debate. The DNC is scheduled to vote on the issue in August.
Huffington Post reporter Alex Kaufman shared a video of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee pledging that he’ll focus as much as possible on the climate during the second night of debating on Wednesday evening, during which he’ll answer questions along with Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, and other candidates.
“Climate change will be an issue,” Inslee, whose primary campaign focus is the climate, said. “Come Hell or high water.”
Women’s advocacy groups expressed hope that CNN would ensure another top issue for voters, reproductive rights, makes it on to the debate stage on Wednesday.
“Night one wraps and despite great performances, it’s appalling that in the wake of Kavanaugh and dangerous bans sweeping the country, not a single question about abortion rights or the Courts. It’s literally our freedom at stake.”
—Ilyse Hogue, NARAL Pro-Choice America
Despite state legislatures passing numerous laws in recent months drastically reducing women’s right to obtain abortion care and President Donald Trump’s elevation of more than 40 anti-choice judges to top federal court positions, CNN moderators asked no questions about the issue on Tuesday.
“Night one wraps and despite great performances, it’s appalling that in the wake of Kavanaugh and dangerous bans sweeping the country, not a single question about abortion rights or the Courts,” said Ilyse Hogue, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “It’s literally our freedom at stake.”
“Voters missed an opportunity to hear how Democratic candidates will approach a fundamental issue that impacts their lives,” Planned Parenthood Action said in a tweeted statement. “As the American people decide their vote, they deserve to hear about the candidates’ visions for how they will protect and expand access to abortion. We call on the Democratic National Committee and CNN to ensure that efforts to protect abortion access are discussed.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who will debate Wednesday night, also criticized the moderators.
“We need a president who will prioritize these issues—not treat them as an afterthought,” Gillibrand wrote.