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Jay Inslee calls out Joe Biden on combatting climate change: 'We have to live in the real world here'

CNN logo CNN 5/16/2019 By Dan Merica, CNN
Jay Inslee wearing a suit and tie: CNN Town Hall with Jay Inslee © Edward M. Pio Roda/CNN CNN Town Hall with Jay Inslee

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday repeatedly called out Joe Biden for his approach on climate, suggesting that the former vice president is naive about working with Republicans on the issue.

Inslee, who rolled out a sweeping $3 trillion jobs plan that projects the creation of 8 million jobs over 10 years by fighting climate change, has made clear throughout his 2020 run that he is willing to fault his Democratic opponents on the issue. And Biden, whose campaign told Reuters earlier this month that the former vice president wanted to propose a climate change plan that appealed to environmentalists and blue-collar voters alike, has not been spared.

"I was concerned, like most everyone was, of the comments coming out of this campaign," Inslee told reporters during a Thursday event at DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, DC. "I will reserve judgment until we see what Joe Biden actually proposes. And I will wait and see if he can match the commitments that I have made to the American people. If he does that, I think it will be a great day for the Democratic Party, but to do so, he's going to have to up his game and say categorically we cannot be shackled to coal jobs forever."

Inslee continued, "He is going to have to say that we have to remove our reliance on fossil fuels from the electrical grid. I have not seen to date any suggestion that he could do that."

A Biden spokeswoman declined to comment on the criticism from Inslee.

Biden has faced repeated attacks from the left on climate change since launching his campaign in April, but the former vice president has pushed back against the criticism, suggesting that his critics are not looking at his decades long record.

The Reuters story on Biden's climate change rankled Inslee and many people in the environmental community, especially the characterization of Biden's plan as a "middle ground" approach that could win over working-class voters who fear fighting climate change means job losses in manufacturing and energy. Biden's campaign later pushed back on the story's accuracy.

Members of Congress have faulted Biden for his plan, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

"I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need to find a middle-of-the-road approach to save our lives," said Ocasio-Cortez, who has pushed her own sweeping proposal, the Green New Deal.

Biden responded to that criticism by saying that he never said he would be "middle of the road" on climate and suggesting that Ocasio-Cortez should "check the statements that I made and look at my record."

During his speech at the water facility, Inslee appeared to mimic Ocasio-Cortez's indirect knock on Biden.

"While people in Iowa are seeking high ground from the floods this week, we cannot have a middle ground proposal to build a clean energy future," he said. "We need a full-throated, robust and complete mobilization of the United States economy. And I'm offering Americans a plan to do just that."

Inslee continued the tame -- but direct -- knocks on Biden in an interview with CNN after the event. When asked if he thought Biden was suggesting he wanted to build consensus on the issue of fighting climate change, Inslee said, "I think we have to live in the real world here. I live in the real world."

"What I'm saying, it is not the real world to think Mitch McConnell is going to embrace a major effort to mobilize against the climate crisis. That's a fool's errand," Inslee said, referring to the Republican Senate Majority leader. "That's why we Democrats need to take away the filibuster from Mitch McConnell."

Inslee added that if Biden thinks he will "walk in and have a cup of tea with Mitch McConnell and convince him that the climate crisis demands a full mobilization of the US economy, there's some other Mitch McConnell in the world."

Inslee is far from the only Democrat talking about climate change, but the Washington governor has staked his 2020 campaign on the issue, counting on concerns among Democratic voters and energy among the party's activists to vault his longshot bid.

A recent CNN poll found that 82% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents find climate change a "very important" issue, ranking it at the top of the list ahead of universal health care, tighter gun laws and impeaching President Donald Trump.

Democrats in the House, led by some in the liberal wing of the party, have pushed for the passage of Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, a sweeping legislative package that would mean wholesale changes to the way the federal government combats climate change. Inslee has called the plan "aspirational," but has spent considerably more time boosting his own climate change plans.

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