- Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez is under a lot of pressure to hold a debate for 2020 candidates that focuses solely on climate change, but he maintains there are better ways to make sure the issue gets attention.
- Ahead of the first Democratic primary debate in Miami, the DNC chairman on Wednesday told INSIDER that the issue will be discussed at length in the 12 debates set to be held this campaign season.
- "We’re going to do more on climate change in these upcoming debates than has ever been done and for good reason, because this issue is real," Perez said.
- Perez also said candidates can touch on climate change in forums and town halls.
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MIAMI, FL — There’s mounting pressure on Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to hold a climate-change-only debate for 2020 candidates, but he’s not budging.
As activists swarmed the Democratic Party’s headquarters in the nation’s capital to demand such a debate and just a few hours before the first Democratic primary debate was set to be held in Miami, INSIDER sat down with Perez and asked if the uproar has led him to reconsider his position.
Perez has remained firm on this issue so far and rejected calls from climate groups and a majority of the 2020 candidates for a climate change-focused debate. And the DNC chairman on Wednesday showed no signs of changing his mind, but he maintains that the party will make sure to prioritize discussions on climate change up until Election Day.
"We’re going to do more on climate change in these upcoming debates than has ever been done and for good reason, because this issue is real," Perez said. "It’s not just here in Florida, you can go to Nebraska, you can go to Iowa, you can go anywhere around this country and see the impact of climate change."
"Democrats understand that it’s real, we need to follow the facts and the science, and the Republicans still have their head in the sand — including Republicans right down here in Florida, inexplicably," he added.
Perez said that the "cross-cutting nature of climate change is why we’re going to talk about it repeatedly," pointing to climate change’s impact on everything from creating jobs via a clean energy economy to public health concerns linked to fossil fuel emissions.
"We’re going to talk about climate change early, often, and in depth," Perez said, "and that is something that the other side won’t do because they deny it."
Perez said that in discussions on the primary debates with the networks he emphasized the need for climate change to be prioritized.
When asked if there will be enough time to adequately discuss climate change during debates with so many issues to cover, Perez said, "We’ll make the time and we have 12 debates."
The DNC chairman said there will also be opportunities to hold forums on climate change, among other issues.
"We have given candidates and others an unprecedented level of opportunity," Perez said.
He said the "beauty" of climate change as a topic is that it "touches so many different issues," and having it discussed in multiple settings, including debates, forums, and town hall meetings is "the way to make sure people understand the importance of climate."
The DNC has said that if candidates participate in unsanctioned debates, including on climate change, they will not be permitted to participate in future party-sanctioned debates. When asked if he would enforce this policy if a candidate participates in a climate-change-only debate, Perez again suggested that candidates take part in forums on the issue. "That is one of many ways that we can make sure this issue gets the attention that it deserves," he said.
During the 2016 campaign season, scientists, and activists repeatedly complained that there were no direct questions on climate change in the presidential debates. Perez seems confident this will not be the case this time around.
The issue of climate change is hanging over the first debate in Miami more than any other, with climate-focused demonstrations planned around the event.
In the hours leading up to the debate, climate activists could be spotted near the venue, Miami’s Arsht Center, including representatives with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
Emily Samsel, LCV’s national press secretary, told INSIDER she traveled down to Miami — a city she said could be "underwater in the next few decades" — specifically to emphasize the importance of discussing climate change in the context of the 2020 race.
"Voters believe addressing climate is a higher priority than ever before," Samsel said.
Indeed, climate change has been cited as a top concern for voters in polling. A CNN poll from earlier this month of likely Iowa Democratic caucus participants found that viewing climate change as humanity’s greatest threat is a make or break issue for candidates.
"We want to see climate front and center at every debate," Samsel said, stating that the media, candidates, and the Democratic party "owe it to Americans" to ensure it’s prioritized along the campaign trail.
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