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Courting young conservatives, Republicans speed up their 'evolution' on climate change

Michael Wilner and Emma Dumain, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Republicans long divided over the scale, scope and science of climate change are unifying behind legislation geared toward a constituency they cannot afford to lose: young conservative voters.

Their efforts to reach this key group for the 2020 election are rapidly accelerating.

Within the course of a month, a little-known initiative to plant a trillion trees worldwide has attracted the attention and endorsement of President Donald Trump, who touted the concept at the World Economic Forum in Davos and during the State of the Union address to Congress.

House Republican leaders are now building on the momentum to produce legislation from this proposal, which calls for private-public partnerships to plant a trillion trees around the world in an effort to capture harmful carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

While this is not the only component of the new House GOP climate platform -- the plan also doubles down on "carbon capture" technology, which would capture fossil fuel emissions before they can reach the atmosphere -- it is the clearest example yet of an emerging Republican strategy to propose low-cost, high-reward political fixes on climate change.

It allows Trump and Republican lawmakers to appeal to young and old conservatives alike -- those who fear the effects of climate change and those concerned that federal regulations meant to curb emissions, as frequently proposed by Democrats, will hamper the economy.


"The trees -- it's a simple and beautiful thing," said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a supporter of the proposal. "Nothing takes CO2 more out of the air than a tree does."

Trump's shift on the issue of climate change, which is now being replicated by a growing number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, began in earnest in 2018, when his senior advisers debated whether to create a panel that would challenge the basic science fueling fears of a warming Earth.

The president's closest confidants -- including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, his daughter and son-in-law -- warned of political repercussions to his continued denial of climate change and the government's role in fighting it, according to one former National Security Council official.

This precipitated a series of private surveys that showed increasing concern among young Republicans with the effects that climate change will have across the country's coasts and plains.


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