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Climate change debate? Democratic Party chair Tom Perez says it’s ‘not practical’ when confronted by Florida activist

‘A president must be able to multitask,’ Perez said at an Orlando event.
Democratic Party chair Tom Perez responds to questions from Florida Democratic officials and activists after a speech on Saturday in Orlando. Perez was asked by the Democratic National Committee will not hold a debate solely focused on climate change.
Published Jun. 9
Updated Jun. 9

ORLANDO -- Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez defended the party’s decision not to hold a presidential primary debate solely focused on climate change when confronted Saturday by Florida activists demanding one.

If the Democratic Party agrees to provide a special platform for climate change discussion, then advocates for other causes will expect the same, Perez said. Already, he said, there are calls for debates on gun violence reduction, democracy reform and foreign policy because “Donald Trump might try to get us into a war in order to win re-election.”

“It’s just not practical,” Perez told the activists. He added: “And as someone who worked for Barack Obama, the most remarkable thing about him was his tenacity to multitask, and a president must be able to multitask.”

But some progressive groups say climate change is the most important issue of the time. The planet is in peril from warming atmospheres and rising sea levels and without action, the future of humanity is at risk. Given the stakes, it deserves an exceptional focus from the Democratic candidates for president.

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Several candidates have picked up that mantle, most notably Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington. Inslee has made climate change the main pillar of his campaign and last week demanded the party sponsor a debate on the problem. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined his call. The DNC rebuffed him.

Perez’s argument that other groups will request debates on their issues “diminish the organizing effort of our partner progressive organizations who have been demanding a climate debate,” Inslee spokesperson Aisling Kerins said in a statement earlier Saturday. "It’s time for the DNC to listen to the grassroots of the party, and give defeating climate change the attention it needs.”

Climate change will certainly be asked about in the presidential debates, Perez said, but candidates want a venue to discuss it at length before voters, they can participate in a forum hosted by someone other than DNC.

Perez was in Orlando this weekend to speak at the Florida Democratic Party’s Leadership Blue gala, the state party’s largest fundraiser. Earlier in the day, he addressed a workshop on Hispanic media outreach. After he stepped off the podium, he was hit with questions about the climate change debate.

Here’s what he said:

"A lot of young people say we should have a single debate focused on climate change. I’ve heard from folks very concerned about the trigger finger guy known as (National Security adviser John) Bolton, who is going to bring us to war in Iran, who say while foreign policy might be number 12 on people’s list, Donald Trump might try to get us into a war in order to win re-election. So what we have said to everybody is that all of these issues are important. Frankly, if we don’t fix our broken politics through democracy reform we’re not going to be able to pass any laws.

“We told people back in February, all the candidates, they understood the rules, we told them that we’re going to have 12 debates, we’re going to have unprecedented access to the debate stage, we established a grassroots threshold and a polling threshold because I wanted to make sure that candidates who didn’t have name idea could get an alternative path, that’s really important. And I also said, and again we communicated this to everybody, that the 12 debates are going to focus on a range of issues, including but not limited to climate change. Because once you have one single issue debate, then every debate leads to become a single issue debate in order to address the concerns. And frankly, as someone who worked for Barack Obama, the most remarkable thing about him was his tenacity to multitask, and a president must be able to multitask. So these debates, and we will have issue areas in debates, including but not limited to climate, but it’s just not practical for us to have one debate on democracy reform, one debate on voting. So here’s what we do in addition: There are candidate forums that are separate from debates.”

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