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Inslee won't take 'no' for an answer on climate debate

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is stoking outrage and taking on his own party after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) unequivocally quashed his proposal for a debate centered on climate change. He's also refusing to take "no" for an answer. 

Inslee is especially incensed that the DNC, according to his campaign, told him that if he participates in an unsanctioned climate debate, he won't be invited to future DNC debates.

"Which to me is just ludicrous," Inslee told KUOW's "The Record" on Thursday. "I think it's just nuts."

Inslee is now calling on his fellow Democratic presidential candidates to lobby the DNC to reconsider its decision. Already,  Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke have joined that call.

This weekend, Inslee will try to rally support for a climate debate while he stumps in Iowa. In a speech planned for the Iowa Democratic Party on Sunday, Inslee is expected to talk about why the DNC "must reconsider and hold a climate debate." 

Inslee, who's barely registering in polls, is running for president on a platform of addressing global climate change. On Wednesday, he unveiled the latest plank in his climate agenda: a call to put combating climate change at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.

Inslee first pitched the idea of a climate-focused debate in April. He followed up this week with a letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez. The next day, according to the Inslee campaign, the DNC called with a two-fold message: there will be no climate debate and participation in an unsanctioned debate will have consequences. 

"This is deeply disappointing," Inslee said in a statement. "The DNC is silencing the voices of Democratic activists, many of our progressive partner organizations, and nearly half the Democratic presidential field, who want to debate the existential crisis of our time."

On Twitter, Perez said the DNC would not hold single-issue debates, but that he was urging media sponsors to include questions about climate change "during each and every debate."

"You have my word that I will do everything I can to make sure our candidates are able to debate all of the critical issues during this primary -- and that we're doing that as fairly as we can," Perez wrote.

Inslee countered that a multi-topic debate format won't allow for a robust discussion of candidate positions on climate change, which he says take "more than 60 second sound bites" to explain. 

Politico.com reports at least five Democratic candidates previously joined Inslee's call for a climate debate, but some party insiders have cautioned it could be a "risky" topic for a debate. 

Inslee already has double-qualified to appear on the stage later this month for the first DNC debates in Miami. Because of the large number of candidates, the debates will take place over two nights with 10 candidates appearing each evening.  

However, the second round of debates, in September, will have a higher threshold to qualify. Candidates will have to earn 2 percent in at least four national polls and have received campaign contributions from at least 130,000 unique donors, including a minimum of 400 donors in each of 20 states.

The purpose of the higher threshold is to further winnow the number of candidates on the stage. 

Copyright 2019 Northwest News Network

Austin Jenkins
Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."