Environmentalists and progressives nationwide celebrated Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's decision Thursday to vote against President Donald Trump's new trade deal because it ignored the human-caused climate crisis.
"Schumer's decision to oppose the USMCA on climate change grounds would not have happened without our movement putting pressure on Democrats to make this crisis an urgent priority in the party like never before."
—Alexandra Rojas, Justice Democrats
Along with Schumer (D-N.Y.), the deal was opposed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ed. Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
"Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet," Schumer said in a statement. "Instead of advancing global climate security by outlining binding and enforceable climate commitments from all three countries, the Trump administration provides significant incentives for manufacturers to move their business and their jobs from the U.S. to Mexico, where clean air and clean water regulations are much weaker."
"Meanwhile, the Trump administration also included handouts for the oil and gas industry, such as lifting tariffs on tar sands, and refused to include any mention of the climate crisis in the agreement," the minority leader added. "When it comes to climate change, the agreement still contains many of the same flaws as the original NAFTA, which I voted against."
Critics of Trump's deal, including Sanders, have dubbed it "NAFTA 2.0." Sanders, a top candidate in the Democratic presidential primary race, shared Schumer's statement on Twitter Thursday and thanked him for "joining this fight." In terms of the climate crisis, Sanders vowed that "we will do better when I'm president."
As one of the only candidates opposing Trump's trade deal, I want to thank Sen. @ChuckSchumer for joining this fight. USMCA will make climate change worse. We will do better when I’m president. https://t.co/b4ebWyh9rr
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 16, 2020
In contrast to Sanders—as well as former 2020 presidential primary candidates Booker, Gillibrand, and Harris—the other three Democratic senators still in the race, Michael Bennet (Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), voted in favor of the trade agreement. Some journalists and Sanders supporters drew attention to the contrast after the vote.
When she launched her campaign, Elizabeth Warren made the Green New Deal a pillar of her platform. At Tuesday's debate, she didn't mention it. Two days later, she voted to give Trump a win on trade with his USMCA, which does not mention climate change or greenhouse gas emissions.
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) January 16, 2020
Erich Pica, president of the advocacy organization Friends of the Earth U.S., declared in a statement Thursday that "there is no excuse for any Democrat to vote for a trade deal that compromises our climate."
"As wildfires rage out of control and our planet endures record-breaking temperatures," Pica said, "Democrats must stop oil and gas companies from using backroom trade deals to destroy the environment."
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"In opposing Trump's trade deal, Leader Schumer is protesting the inevitable increase in the trade of tar sands, oil, and fracked gas across the continent," he added. "The USMCA is both an insult to communities across North America who live on the front lines of corporate pollution and a giant step in the wrong direction."
Bill McKibben, co-founder of the global environmental advocacy organization 350.org, wrote in response to Schumer's statement that "this is fairly amazing, since [Schumer] has not really been at the center of the climate fight. It illustrates, I think, that the Dems are planning to use Trump's climate insanity as a key issue this year. As well they should."
"As wildfires rage out of control and our planet endures record-breaking temperatures, Democrats must stop oil and gas companies from using backroom trade deals to destroy the environment."
—Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth U.S.
Other critics of the trade deal pointed to Schumer's vote as evidence that public pressure for bold climate action is having an impact on Democratic politicians.
"Our primary challengers and sit-ins targeting moderate Democrats have been criticized as divisive and unnecessary by many in the party establishment," Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the progressive group Justice Democrats said in a statement.
"But Sen. Schumer's decision to oppose the USMCA on climate change grounds would not have happened without our movement putting pressure on Democrats to make this crisis an urgent priority in the party like never before," Rojas continued. "We welcome this development. We need a party that takes on Trump with solutions that match the scale of the problems we face."
Waleed Shahid, also of Justice Democrats, acknowledged his group's advocacy work in a tweet Thursday and highlighted the efforts of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—he worked on her campaign—and the youth-led Sunrise Movement.
Karthik Ganapathy, who worked on Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign and ran the communications office of former Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, also gave credit to the Sunrise Movement, tweeting that it is "unfathomable to think of Chuck Schumer saying these words" without the group's advocacy work.
In a series of tweets, the Sunrise Movement thanked Schumer "for standing with us on the right side of history against the USMCA trade deal" and said that "to negotiate a trade deal in the 21st century without addressing climate change is unfathomable. We can and must do better. Everything we know and love depends on it."
The group also urged Schumer to support other climate initiatives and legislation:
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) January 16, 2020
Despite the opposition from 10 senators, "the USMCA will now be sent to Trump's desk to be signed into law," Politico reported Thursday. "But the deal will not go into full effect until Canada approves the pact. Mexico already passed the revised deal in December, and Canada's House of Commons is expected to vote on the deal in coming weeks."