Elections

A ‘robust’ climate discussion was promised in Miami debates. There’s one night left.

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Democratic debates in Miami

Ten Democratic presidential candidates, including Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, participate in the second night of debates at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

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Under pressure from party activists to dedicate more time and space to the issue of climate change, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez promised in Miami Wednesday that the party’s first primary debates would include a “robust” conversation around sea-rise and carbon emissions.

Maybe he was talking about the debate to come Thursday night. Because it sure didn’t happen Wednesday.

Though Miami is in the middle of a historic heat wave, the topic of climate change received less than 10 minutes during the opening night as the first half of the top 20 candidates met for the first time on stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Candidates wove the topic into answers on other issues, such as the economy, but had little time to get into the meat of the issue.

“How is it possible that [a] 2-hour #DemDebate in #Florida had scant discussion of the #ClimateCrisis?!” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, asked incredulously Wednesday night on Twitter.

All told, moderators dedicated about 7 minutes to the subject Wednesday, with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow launching into the issue at 10:22 p.m. by noting Miami’s “serious” sunny day flooding and sea-rise projections that would put parts of Miami Beach and the Florida Keys underwater “in our lifetime.” She asked Washington Gov. Jay Inslee if his climate change plan — the staple of his candidacy — would “save Miami.”

Inslee said it would.

“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last that can do something about it,” Inslee said. “Our towns are burning, our fields are flooding, Miami is inundated. We have to understand this is a climate crisis. An emergency.”

But he didn’t say how — Miami’s limestone foundation makes it particularly vulnerable to sea rise, for instance — and wasn’t asked to elaborate.

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Over the next six minutes or so, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who has also released a climate policy plan based on alternative energy, talked about addressing carbon emissions without dictating how people live. Former HUD secretary Julian Castro was asked to address the extent to which the federal government should be liable for coastal communities, like Miami, built in increasingly precarious places. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, when asked how to pay for resiliency issues, wound up talking about how the Democratic Party has a problem with a perception that it is a party for the “coastal elites.”

John Delaney had to force his way into the conversation, squeezing an extra 30 seconds as NBC’s Chuck Todd — who grew up in Miami — pushed to move on to another topic.

The brevity of the discussion left disappointed activists hoping for a deep dive into climate issues. Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party joined increasing calls for the DNC to hold a climate-specific debate.

Perez himself told activists from Miami who pressed him early this month during a state party conference in Orlando that there would be no single-topic debates. But he told reporters Wednesday that the topic would get plenty of space.

“Climate change is going to get a thorough and frequent and early discussion and its a discussion that is deserved,” Perez said. “We will have the most robust and in-depth conversations about climate change in this debate.”

That didn’t happen Wednesday. But there’s still time for Perez to be proven correct.

Another 10 candidates will debate again at 9 p.m. The list is: former vice president Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Senator Kamala Harris, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.

McClatchy DC reporter Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.

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