On climate change, it's Sheldon Whitehouse v. Washington
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has taken a lead role in one of Washington's most important — and intractable — public policy fights: reining in climate change.
He makes weekly speeches on the threat. He recently joined with Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-California) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) to pen a letter to President Obama, laying out actions the executive branch could take on its own to address the problem.
And lately, he's formed a bicameral climate change task force with Waxman that aims to pressure a recalcitrant capital into action. The Phoenix caught up with Whitehouse for a Q&A, via telephone.
Our conversation came a couple of weeks after President Obama talked of confronting climate change in his inaugural address. And it came a couple of days before the president fleshed out his ideas in the State of the Union speech: endorsing long-stalled cap-and-trade legislation and suggesting the administration would take separate, unspecified executive action on global warming.
The interview is edited and condensed.
YOU'VE ACKNOWLEDGED THERE'S LITTLE CHANCE REPUBLICANS, WHO CONTROL THE HOUSE, WILL SUPPORT CLIMATE CHANGE LEGISLATION. SO WHAT, IN THAT CONTEXT, CAN YOUR TASK FORCE DO? One thing we can do is to help build [an] environment in which [Republicans] have to engage with us on climate change.
[That requires] public engagement. [This is] yet another issue where the Republican extremist wing dragged its party away from the regular American people and their point of view. In the same way the Republican Party has been wrong and they're trying to recover on gay rights, they've been wrong and trying to recover on immigration, they need to someday realize that they are wrong and need to recover on climate change and that the American people will assess a penalty for not paying attention.
The second piece is that we want to press the administration to take strong executive action, because when the big polluters are looking at strong, executive action, hopefully they may find that moving over to the legislature and trying to find something that can be done a little more harmoniously will be in their interest.
Left alone, they will stonewall.
So those are two of the pieces: urge executive action, try to find a way to engage public participation. And then, ultimately, work on legislation that can be a product of that engagement.
YOU HAVE SPOKEN BEFORE OF WHAT YOU CALL A "JERICHO STRATEGY," INVOKING JOSHUA'S SEVEN-DAY MARCH AROUND THE CITY OF JERICHO BEFORE HE DESTROYED IT. YOU'VE TALKED OF BRINGING LEGISLATION UP OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND APPLYING HEAVY PUBLIC PRESSURE TO EMBARRASS REPUBLICANS INTO ACTION. IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SOME VERSION OF THAT HERE. BUT YOU HAVEN'T HAD THE BEST OF LUCK WITH THE JERICHO STRATEGY ON TWO OTHER PRIORITIES: THE "BUFFETT RULE" THAT WOULD RAISE TAXES ON THE WEALTHY AND A CAMPAIGN FINANCE MEASURE KNOWN AS THE DISCLOSE ACT. CAN IT WORK HERE? I think it could work in any area where the Republican opposition is way out of step with the American people. The question is, can we get enough trips around Jericho to make it actually work? Once around isn't enough and so far I only got once around on DISCLOSE. I think we'll get another round on the Buffett Rule in the [run up to automatic cuts known as the "sequester"].