Although new to Show Me Progress, I’ve noticed a lot of conversation and concern surrounding Claire McCaskill’s rhetoric towards the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). So I, along with a few peers, decided to take advantage of a Capitol Hill “Lobby Day” held by Campus Progress, where I currently intern, to attempt to speak with her regarding the issue.

We began our pitch on a few issues with an assistant, but before long Senator McCaskill (or “Claire” as she preferred), entered the room, welcomed us with her Missouri charm, and sat to talk.  

I began the discussion with Claire by framing the issue from my viewpoint as a young person, a Missourian, and a political realist (self-proclaimed). I explained how my grandparents (true rural, traditional Missourians- the type she’s sticking up for in her comments on ACES) perceive climate legislation differently than me, but that dialogue between us helps to shift their perspective.

Me in the red tie

Senator McCaskill nodded in agreement and mentioned the generation gap prevalent in Missouri public opinion.

Launching into my main argument, I framed strong climate change legislation as key to the success (and perhaps survival) of my generation. I wanted her to understand that young people perceive the issue from a future in which we must live and be successful. I argued that without a transition into a clean energy system, our country would be not only contributing to a global stagnation in climate efforts, but would be hurting our own economic competitiveness, as well.

She listened politely, then in an empathetic voice asked how we felt about China and India’s lack of cooperation in climate change negotiations, referring to the recent G8 summit in Italy. Our delegation of young people in the room clearly were on a different page than her, and responded with enthusiasm that we’d rather start the clean energy transition than follow (in more eloquent words, citing strong investment by China into alternative energy).

Claire responded by turning to speak on the economic difficulty she believes ACES would place on Missourians in particular. She said that she knows “10-15” manufacturing companies that are on the “bubble” in Missouri, even “one or two” that have already had to move jobs overseas. Claire claimed a “chasm” existed between the current and future energy infrastructures. In sum, her argument was that if we attempt to transition too quickly from our current mode of energy production, many companies (energy and otherwise) would suffer.

I replied that I understand the concern (which I do), but that the argument is ubiquitous in the history of the energy debate in America, making no time the “perfect time” to act strongly. I further argued that the issue is more long-term than typical political issues, but of dire concern to young people especially. She responded by defending her record on climate change.

First, she said that she believes whole-heatedly in the science of climate change. She then turned to politics. Claire agreed that the issue is tough because it’s difficult to act on concerns that are not directly or immediately affecting American’s lives. She also made the point that the Democratic control of Congress should be understood with caution, for Republican incumbents are logically only defeated by moderate Democrats, versus a starkly liberal candidate. She consistently labeled herself as a moderate, as well.

She also seemed particularly concerned over the EPA’s role in overseeing the bill’s effects on agriculture.

A door opened in the room- an assistant alerting Claire her next meeting had arrived, so I made my last pitch, telling her that despite how it may appear, there are many in Missouri who believe ACES should be strengthened and passed, especially young people like those before her. “You know what, though?” Claire said, returning to her empathetic tone. She reported that, out of the letters she’s received from Missourians, (approximate numbers) around 200 were “against” ACES and only 10-15 “for”.

We shook hands, grabbed the irresistible photo op, and headed out.

What can be taken away from the conversation? While its no Dan Rather exclusive, I think it can give insight into McCaskill’s recent rhetoric towards the climate bill.

1. Science does not run parallel to policy. Perhaps the equation is more accurately science/politics= policy. Claire is in good company in both acknowledging climate science and acting without complete regard to it.

2. Senator McCaskill has chosen her ACES path. Her comments on job outsourcing and the EPA show she has made up her mind. We can also point towards both her discussions with Missouri manufacturing companies and letters received opposing the bill for her confident path in seeking to alter its provisions.

3. Despite many comments that concerned me, it is clear that McCaskill is not a hard-line opponent of efforts towards a clean energy economy, relative towards skeptics of climate science, per say. She supports the vision of jobs in alternative energy, but feels the need to respond to concerns in her constituency.

4. All this is mind, progressives in Missouri who disagree or are confused with McCaskill’s stance should take away from this conversation a call to action. While certain interests will always hold sway over her decisions, educating Missourians on the necessity and benefits of strong climate legislation, reducing unfounded fears, and communicating with Claire herself, are not a lost cause.

I for one, heading home in a few weeks, will be giving it all I got.

Brett Marler will be a senior at Drury University in Springfield this Fall, studying International Politics and Philosophy. He is currently an online communications intern at Campus Progress. Reach him at marler.brett@gmail.com