Barring a scheduling meltdown, a delegation of Democratic senators will break from debates over the health care law, government spending and highway funding to fly to Paris for the U.N. climate change conference. Some of those who plan to make the trip said they're going not only to show support for the Obama administration's climate agenda, but to stand with France following terror attacks that killed 130 people last month.
"I think it's also important that our government officials say to the French people that we have their back, that we are with them, that we'll give them the help they need even as they have just suffered this grievous loss which we feel deeply is a crime against all humanity," said Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. "It's an important message to send."
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, who is the delegation's organizer and a co-chairman of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, said, "We'll be emphasizing why we think this is a critical opportunity for not only world health, as Pope Francis says, but also for our security and our economy.''
The conference runs through Dec. 11, the date the stopgap spending bill that's keeping government agencies running is set to expire. An unofficial list for the CODEL includes Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Al Franken of Minnesota and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Tentative plans call for a Thursday night departure. But that could be upended by a Senate vote-a-rama on amendments to a budget reconciliation bill that aims to undo major portions of the 2010 health care law and cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood for one year. A temporary highway funding measure also is set to expire Friday.
The senators plan to stay in Paris for less than 48 hours. While there, they'll largely be confined to a secure meeting area.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the ramifications of climate change are on par with those of ISIS attacks. While those comments outraged some Republicans, Democrats argued that the two are of equal importance.
"Climate change is not as immediate of a threat as people who seek to kill us now, but climate change remains the challenge of our generation," Schatz said. "The idea that we can't hold those two thoughts in our head at the same time without falling apart is a fantasy."
Cardin, too, said Obama is correct to place the two issues on equal footing, and added that the sense of urgency on climate change comes in part from the fact "we can do something about it."
But "I would not want to compare it to ISIS," he said, describing it as "a unique challenge that we need all hands on deck globally to wipe them out."
Not all potential attendees support the conference's agenda. One of the Senate's top climate change skeptics, Republican James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, is considering joining the group, but said will wait until the last minute to decide. Inhofe threw a snowball on the Senate floor in February to dramatize his view that the climate isn't changing.
"I've been to several [climate talks], but I never decide until the last minute," he said. "Because I don't know what they're going to say that I have to refute. It may be that it won't be necessary."
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