Will Congressional harassment of climate scientists become an issue in the 2016 general election?

Four years after President Obama avoided bringing up the topic of human-caused climate change in his debates with Mitt Romney, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton should not miss an opportunity to highlight the malicious mischief of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), as chronicled by Peter Sinclair of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication:

YouTube video

As Sinclair notes, Rep. Smith’s targeting of climate scientists is a reprise of Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-TX) war on Dr. Michael Mann in the 2000s–a war that, as Mann noted in his 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars and a 2015 New York Times op-ed–was denounced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and then-Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Clinton should not hesitate to remind Americans that anti-science attacks from the likes of Rep. Smith and Rep. Barton will continue if the House remains in right-wing hands–and that the health, safety and welfare of future generations will be on the line in both the presidential race and down-ticket elections.

Clinton should ask presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump a simple question: whose side are you on? Do you support the repugnant behavior of Rep. Smith, or do you stand with the majority of Americansincluding Republicans–who want elected officials to take action on climate change, not wish it away?

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has often noted that most Republicans under the age of 35 regard the culture of climate denial as nonsensical. How will those Republicans–some of whom are already considering general-election alternatives–react if Trump stands with Rep. Smith? Even though this will be the first presidential election since the Supreme Court effectively struck down the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the GOP can only suppress so many votes. Can Trump really afford to alienate pro-science voters in what could be a close election?

Trump might not be the only Republican who will have to reckon with Rep. Smith’s sleaziness. Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), David Jolly (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Robert Dold (R-IL), all of whom have signaled a willingness to work with Democrats on efforts to address climate change, have a moral obligation to forcefully condemn Rep. Smith’s savagery towards science–a savagery that ignores the reality that the last three Republican presidents all acknowledged that human-caused climate change was a problem (even if they failed to lead on this issue). Future generations will not forgive them if they fail to meet that obligation.

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow, ABC News and USA Today on the prospective Clinton vs. Trump race.

SECOND UPDATE: In a somewhat ironic development, George Will, who shares Trump’s views on climate change, nevertheless declares: “If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four [more] years of the enjoyment of executive power.” If Clinton begins speaking more forcefully on climate as the general election approaches, will the anti-science Will change his mind?

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D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.