In the heat of Monday afternoon, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) fumbled with her kickoff speech on global warming legislation as she tried to wax poetic about the need to save the planet, and the United States, from environmental disaster.
Boxer couldnt find parts of her speech Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) leaned in to help at one point rifled through her notes, went off in several directions and even stopped to talk to her staff in the middle of the speech. Her disorganized comments might have gone unnoticed, but they seemed to symbolize the disarray that many Democrats say has plagued and will continue to afflict the Senate debate on climate change this week.
We are about to take up the most important fight of our generation, and we have no strategy, no message and no plan to get out of this, one senior Senate Democratic aide said.
Another senior Senate Democratic staffer echoed those sentiments: Everyone knows this bill is going nowhere. The president is opposed to it. The House is not inclined toward action on this, and now were going to spend valuable floor time on a bill thats going nowhere ... while Republicans are champing at the bit to accuse Democrats of raising gas prices.
Aides also said some Democrats fear that having a global warming debate this year will only end up aiding the campaign of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who has broken with his party to support climate change legislation.
The furor in the Democratic caucus has been brewing for weeks, with Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.) and other Senators voicing their concerns in weekly Democratic luncheons. Their concerns include whether the party has laid the groundwork to win the public relations campaign as well as how to deal with politically difficult amendments offered by Republicans, a Senate Democratic source said.
And meetings of Democratic legislative directors as well as those of Democratic chiefs of staff on the bill recently featured sharp exchanges with Boxers senior staff on the Environment panel, several sources said.
Even environmental groups are wary of bringing up the bill now.
"There is a political concern, with people asking why are we doing this now, gas prices are $4 a gallon, were at the beginning of the summer driving season, why are we doing this when the opposition is going to say were screwing the American consumer?" said a staffer at an environmental group backing the legislation.
It appears that the Democratic discord has less to do with the bills specifics, the bulk of which most Democrats support, and more to do with the communications strategy or lack thereof employed to maximize any political gains if the bill fails to garner the 60 votes necessary to beat back a likely filibuster.