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A Big Political Fight Over Climate Change is Coming

Democrats think they might have the upper hand, but the effort could backfire.
Image: Rally In Los Angeles Calls For Action Against Climate Change
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 17: Demonstrators march to City Hall during the "Forward on Climate" rally to call on President Obama to take strong action on the climate crisis on February 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Organizers say the rally, which is led by Tar Sands Action Southern California and Sierra Club, is composed of a coalition of over 90 groups and coincides with similar rallies in Washington D.C. and other U.S. cities. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)David McNew / Getty Images

The coming climate fight

Over the last six months, Democrats and Republicans have battled over the budget (where there’s now a truce), the health care law (which has died down), the minimum wage (ditto), and even Benghazi (with Democrats deciding to participate on the select committee). But it’s very possible that the summer will dominated by a different partisan fight -- over climate change and the environment. Next month, the Obama administration is expected to unveil new Environmental Protection Agency rules to limit greenhouse gases from existing power plants, which would represent President Obama’s biggest action on climate (far greater than whatever he does on the Keystone Pipeline). And as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes, the politics of these EPA rules could rival the battle over health care. After all, what was Senate Minority Mitch McConnell attack on Alison Grimes about Tuesday night? He was tying her to Obama’s “war on coal.” Well, that war -- via the EPA rules -- is coming. Meanwhile, as we just reported, a Super PAC funding by Democratic environmentalist Tom Steyer has announced it will spend as much as $100 million this election season attacking Republicans in seven key states who it says are climate-science “deniers.” The seven states, which are all blue and purple ones: Colorado (going after Cory Gardner), Florida (Gov. Rick Scott), Iowa (Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs), Maine (Gov. Paul LePage), Michigan (Terri Lynn Land), New Hampshire (Scott Brown), and Pennsylvania (Gov. Tom Corbett).

And which party holds the upper political hand here?

This campaign by Steyer’s Super PAC, NextGen Climate, comes after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he doubted scientists’ claims that humans are responsible for climate change. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” he said. NextGen Climate argues that the Republicans it has targeted have said something similar. “I have not been convinced," Rick Scott said of global warming when he was campaigning in 2010. Steyer’s advisers believe this “anti-science” label is damaging to the Republican Party’s long-term brand. But the effort could backfire on Democrats. While NextGen Climate will play only in the blue and purple states Obama won in 2008 and 2012, we won’t be surprised if Republicans try to make the group an issue in the red states. “Mary Landrieu and the Democrats are benefitting from anti-Keystone Pipeline Tom Steyer!!!” the GOP will likely charge. Likewise, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent says that the Obama administration’s EPA rules could put the 2014 red-state Dems in a tough spot. “Dem strategists believe the EPA regs will be politically dicey, but – just as in the case of Obamacare — will also provide another occasion for red state Dems to prove their independence of national Dems. That, of course, has pluses and minuses: It achieves distance from Obama, but also reminds red state voters why they don’t like Democrats.”

Will the Democratic dam break over the VA story?

President Obama on Wednesday addressed the growing outcry over the alleged misconduct at VA hospitals, and he said he was outraged. “When I hear allegations of misconduct -- any misconduct -- whether it's allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it. Not as commander-in-chief, but also not as an American. None of us should.” But the president didn’t buy himself a lot of time, especially now with some red-state Democrats criticizing him. “I listened to the president today, and I was very disappointed with President Obama today,” Rep. David Scott (D-GA) said. “There was no urgency. Mr. President, we need urgency, we need you to roll up our sleeves and get into these hospitals!” Another Georgia Democrat, John Barrow, became the first Democrat to call for Shinseki’s firing. And this is the question for the White House: Will the Democratic dam break? Will Scott be followed by Sens. Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and Kay Hagan? If that happens, the White House won’t have a whole lot of time to get to the bottom of this and fix it. They’ll need to make a symbolic move quickly if they don’t want to find themselves on a political island.

In an era of fake political outrage, the VA story demands true outrage

Slate’s John Dickerson writes that our politics has witnessed plenty of fake outrage over the years. But this VA story demands true outrage. “Fake umbrage taking and outrage production are our most plentiful political products, not legislation and certainly not interesting solutions to complicated issues. We are in a new political season, too—that means an extra dose of hot, high stakes outrage over the slightest thing that might move votes. How does something get recognized as beyond the pale when we live beyond the pale? What makes the VA scandal different is not only that it affected people at their most desperate moment of need—and continues to affect them at subpar facilities. It’s also a failure of one of the most basic transactions government is supposed to perform: keeping a promise to those who were asked to protect our very form of government.” Well said.

All eyes turn to Mississippi

Folks, the next GOP establishment-vs.-Tea Party fight will take place on June 3 in Mississippi -- between Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel. For the Tea Party and Club for Growth, A LOT is riding on the contest because they need a win after Tuesday’s primaries. And the race has attracted even more national attention after questions about whether the McDaniel campaign had any involvement or prior knowledge of a blogger’s arrest for taking footage of Cochran’s bedridden wife. But here’s a question to ponder: What happens if McDaniel wins, especially with Democrats having a semi-credible candidate for the general election (former Rep. Travis Childers)? Almost everything has gone the GOP establishment’s way lately in getting the general-election candidates it wants. But McDaniel winning -- and the race has been very competitive (at least before this blogger story surfaced) -- could upend that applecart. And considering just how aggressively the NRSC and the Mississippi GOP establishment crowd have gone after McDaniel, can they all really do a 180-degree turn and support McDaniel if he wins? Going to be tough.

All tied up in Wisconsin

Finally, don’t miss this Marquette poll out of Wisconsin, which shows Gov. Scott Walker (R) tied with challenger Mary Burke (D) among registered voters, 46%-46%. Remember that Walker’s 2016 hopes hinge on winning re-election first.

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