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Congressional staffers engage in a sit-in protest inside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's office, with a banner that reads "Keep negotiating, Chuck". Image courtesy of Saul Levin

After historic sit-in, a last-ditch effort to pass a big climate bill has new life

Update, July 27: Just 48 hours after the historic sit-in protest by Congressional and executive branch staffers, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) proposed a surprise new bill including major climate provisions that he said he was prepared to support. According to early estimates by supporters in the Senate, the bill would reduce emissions by about 40% by 2030 roughly in line with President Joe Biden’s own voluntary climate goals for the US under the Paris Agreement. Here is a full-text of Manchin’s statement.

The original post follows:

Frustrated by the lack of federal action on climate change, staffers for Democratic members of Congress staged a sit-in in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)’s office on Monday morning, leading to their arrest.

Seventeen staffers were arrested in total, according to the New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz.

Saul Levin, a climate policy staffer for Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) who helped organized the action and was one of those arrested, said it’s the first time in US history that current congressional staffers have peacefully protested their own party’s leaders inside the US Congress.

“We’re standing up,” Levin told Currently. “It’s time.”

“We are putting our bodies on the line because we have no other choice,” Levin said in a tweet.

Last week in a widely publicized speech, Biden failed to declare a climate emergency — a move that would have authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to build heat pumps and solar panels, among many other possibilities. Days later, 60 members of Congress, including Bush, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), wrote a letter to Biden demanding he use the “full power” of the executive branch due to the “scope and urgency of the crisis.”

Two weeks ago, a group of 200 Democratic staffers organized by Levin wrote a similar letter to Congressional leaders, including Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Today’s action is the latest escalation in these efforts to force pressure on lawmakers on the fence, like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

The Congressional staffers were joined by Democratic staffers from President Biden’s executive branch and circulated a letter demanding the president use more aggressive tactics on climate action. According to reporting from The Lever, the effort has gathered the support of at least 165 executive branch and Congressional staffers so far, who signed using only their initials to avoid political retribution.

Specifically, Congressional staffers are demanding the use of a budget reconciliation procedure — which requires only a simple majority in the Senate — to pass climate policy in a sharply divided Congress that has approved no major climate legislation despite Democratic control in both the House and the Senate.

“I think a lot of staffers have been talking about this for a long time, but this rose up out of staffers’ frustration,” Levin told Currently. “A lot of people have worked on this bill for years, since before Joe Biden was elected.”

“A lot of us don’t feel comfortable sitting in these halls, being lucky to have these jobs and not saying anything.”

The staffers were joined by members of the Sunrise Movement, an activist organization that helped kickstart attention on a progressive collection of climate policies known as the Green New Deal by staging a similar sit-in in Pelosi’s office back in 2018 that Ocasio-Cortez famously participated in.


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