A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing for action on climate change

AMONG the many things that divide Democrats from Republicans is climate change. Fully 73% of Democratic voters say they are worried about global warming, compared with 32% of Republicans. Yet last month Elise Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman from New York (pictured above), co-authored a letter with a Democratic colleague urging President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to purge climate change from the list of threats in the National Security Strategy. Another ten Republicans signed it (as did 94 Democrats). Many are members of the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives. 

The caucus is as atypical as a climate-friendly Republican. It was dreamed up in 2016 by two south Florida congressmen. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, and Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, both worried about the damage global-warming-induced sea-level rise was visiting on their coastal districts. Having served on the House ethics committee, Mr Deutch noticed that divvying up seats evenly between the two sides fostered civility. So he and Mr Curbelo decided that to join their new caucus, an applicant must bring along a companion from across the aisle.

This “Noah’s Ark” rule sometimes governs the sponsorship of bills, says Jennifer Victor, a scholar of caucuses at George Mason University—but never before, to her knowledge, caucus construction. Without the Noah rule, the caucus would be larger; there is a long waiting list of Democrats, Mr Deutch reports. But, Mr Curbelo explains, that would further politicise the climate debate which “has been hyperpolarised for 20 years”. With 66 members and counting, up from 20 a year ago, it ranks in the top tenth of Congress’s 598 caucuses by size, according to Ms Victor—and far above the median of 14. 

Many of the group’s members are unabashedly green (Mr Deutch’s office walls on Capitol Hill are painted to reflect this). Plenty hail from purple areas, like Mr Curbelo. But 12 of its 33 Republicans represent districts where Mr Trump beat Hillary Clinton by more than ten percentage points in 2016. 

The group’s clout is limited. The White House has ignored Ms Stefanik’s missive and a proposal to cut taxes for clean energy fell flat. Caucuses have no way to discipline members to vote one way or another. They chiefly serve as a costless way for congressmen to signal to voters that they care about certain issues; the typical representative belongs to 35, by Ms Victor’s estimates. But signalling matters in politics. And the caucus is not entirely toothless. Its Republican members helped persuade enough party colleagues to help House Democrats ward off an attempt by the GOP’s carbon-cuddling wing to strip mentions of climate change from last year’s defence bill. The climate-sceptic-in-chief signed it into law last December with the pro-climate language intact.

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