WASHINGTON -- Even before the debate moderators turned to climate change, the candidates were eager to steer the discussion in that direction.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders brought it up as the candidates argued about national security, making the case that building an international coalition to fight climate change is as important to creating a safer, more prosperous world as coalition-building to create peace in the Middle East.
Sanders went on to defend his opposition to a major trade deal being negotiated by the Trump administration -- and supported by some of his rivals on the stage -- by noting it does little to confront global warming.
"Every major environmental organization has said no to this new trade agreement," Sanders said of the so-called USMCA deal with Canada and Mexico, "because it does not even have the phrase climate change in it. And given the fact that climate change is right now the greatest threat facing this planet, I will not vote for trade agreement."
Sanders scoffed when the moderator tried to steer the discussion back to trade, arguing that the issues can't be separated.
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer then scolded candidates on the stage who have not made climate change their No. 1 priority, as he has. He took particular aim at former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his support of the trade deal.
"I've got four kids between the ages of 26 and 31," Steyer said. "I cannot allow this country to go down the path of climate destruction. Everybody in their generation knows and, frankly, Mayor Buttigieg, you are their generation. I think you would be standing up more. ...We cannot put climate on the back seat all the time."
Buttigieg took exception.
"We're going to tackle climate from day one" of a Buttigieg administration, he said. "It's why we've got to make sure that we have better answers than we do today.
"Now what I've noticed is pretty much all of us propose that we move on from fossil fuels by the middle of the century." He then asked if any of the candidates are prepared to actually make sure it gets done, noting the same promises have been made for years, but the policies have stalled.
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