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Why Kamala Harris didn’t vote on a climate change bill after sponsoring one just like it

Both California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein voted “present” on the progressive Green New Deal, declining to take a stance on the non-binding proposal that lays out goals for how the government could reduce the affects of climate change.

Most other Senate Democrats similarly declined to vote on the Green New Deal. They criticized Republican leaders for a calling a procedural vote on the bill when they knew it had no chance of passing.

Harris, who is running for president, had sponsored a resolution similar to the one went to the Senate floor.

“Political stunts won’t get us anywhere. Combating this crisis first requires the Republican majority to stop denying science and finally admit that climate change is real and humans are the dominant cause. Then we can get serious about taking action to tackle the climate crisis at the scale of the problem,” she said in a written statement after the vote.

Some Green New Deal provisions deemed extreme — by both Republicans and moderate Democrats — include updating every building in the U.S. to meet green standards and cutting down on airplane travel in favor of high-speed rail. It also includes a job and basic wage guarantee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, brought the legislation to a vote in the Senate to force Democrats to take a position on it, though no Republicans support it.

A total of 43 senators, all of them Democrats, voted present. Four Democrats voted against it along with all Republicans.

All of the Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate, including Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, voted present.

Feinstein told McClatchy Tuesday that she believes climate legislation should only deal with climate change, not broadly try to address other issues as well.

“It should not involve education, and guaranteed jobs, and paid for health care and all those things,” Feinstein said.

Students criticized Feinstein in a viral video last month when she declined to say whether she supported the Green New Deal. When she responded that she had her own plan to deal with climate change and her office released a draft, progressive groups called on her to withhold the legislation, worried it would derail the Green New Deal.

The draft released by Feinstein’s office calls for net-zero global warming gas emissions by 2050, which is a slower timeline than the so-called Green New Deal pushed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Some Democrats and environmental groups want to see proposals that are more concrete that non-binding resolutions like the Green New Deal.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, for example, has proposal to overhaul the tax code to favor clean energy goals.

“As a sponsor of the Green New Deal, I can tie together the urgency behind the resolution with the specific,” said Wyden, who on Tuesday voted “present” on the Green New Deal resolution. “I’ve made it clear, I’m talking about action.”

Others, such as Harris, say due to Republican control of the chamber, non-binding resolutions might be the best they can do right now.

“And that’s frustrating, frankly,” Harris said.

Feinstein is still soliciting feedback on her legislation, including whether it should be a binding or non-binding bill. But she said she ultimately hopes what she puts out will get support from Republicans, some of whom have showed signs they are more open to considering climate change solutions.

“I believe climate change is real. I believe human emissions are a major cause of climate change,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, in a floor speech Monday criticizing the Green New Deal. “The United States should launch a new Manhattan Project for clean energy — a five-year project with 10 grand challenges that will use American research and technology to put our country and our world on the path toward cleaner, cheaper energy.”

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.