Jay Inslee ends presidential campaign: he elevated climate change

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that he is ending his campaign for the presidency.

He did not reach the Democratic National Committee’s polling threshold of 2 percent in time to qualify for the next round of debates, though he did reach the donor threshold — he hit 130,000 donors at last count. Missing the debates would have made breaking out of a crowded field (on a shoestring budget) prohibitively difficult.

Inslee’s campaign was always a long shot, but it was never only about winning. The aim was to push climate change to the forefront of the Democratic agenda, and that is just what has happened. The issue was discussed in both debates thus far. CNN and MSNBC have both planned forums where the candidates will discuss their climate plans. And the DNC is going to vote on having a dedicated debate. Climate now ranks among the top three issues for Democratic voters in primary states, in poll after poll. Inslee is not solely responsible for all that, of course — activists and Mother Nature deserve some credit — but it certainly didn’t hurt to have a campaign pushing other candidates on the issue and steadily releasing policy plans to address it.

And hoo boy, those policy plans. Also on Wednesday, as if to bookend the campaign, Inslee released the final installment of his climate agenda, focused on agriculture and climate change. It is, like the installments before it, both extremely ambitious and extremely detailed. Altogether, the campaign has now generated more than 200 pages of climate policy. (See here for links to coverage.)

The result is far more than a campaign document — it’s a comprehensive governing blueprint. It takes the lofty aspirations of the Green New Deal and translates them into nuts and bolts, specifying which agencies and programs need to do what. Whichever Democratic candidate may become president, they would do well to keep a copy of Inslee’s plan on their desk.


Inslee, campaigning.
Yes On 1631

I chatted with Inslee Tuesday in a hotel lounge, and though he was not quite as animated as when I spoke to him at the beginning of his bid — presidential campaigning takes a toll — he seemed, as ever, undaunted and upbeat. Though he won’t yet reveal his future plans (there’s still plenty of time for a 2020 gubernatorial bid in Washington), he vowed to stay involved in the presidential race, push the candidates to up their climate ambitions, and campaign for any Democrat who does.

And finally (one last time, for nostalgia’s sake), we griped about the filibuster, the archaic legislative procedure that allows the minority party to kill everything that reaches the Senate.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

David Roberts

So how was running for president compared to running for governor?

Jay Inslee

I’ve been in races almost every two years since 1988, and in some sense, this was the most inspirational race I’ve ever been in, though the result was not as I wished. Because I met thousands of people who are so engaged, so committed, who haven’t given up on democracy, who are twice as inspired to act after the Trump presidency as before it. There’s a unity of purpose, just a full-throated cry for energy to defeat this guy.

David Roberts

Did the climate-first message resonate out in the country, outside of DC?

Jay Inslee

It’s interesting: In virtually every group I spoke to, that statement [that climate is the top priority] elicited as much or more applause than anything else. I talked about guns. I talked about health care. I talked about immigration. I don’t have an applause meter, but I would say in virtually every crowd I was in, climate seemed to get the most visceral response. And I don’t think it was geographically different — same in Michigan, Iowa, California. Same across demographics, as well.

David Roberts

Are you glad you mounted this campaign? Do you think it influenced the race the way you wanted?

Jay Inslee

Our campaign had several benefits, even though it’s not successful in the traditional sense.

Number one, I think we’ve raised the bar and driven the other candidates to be more ambitious [on climate change]. We forced the debate onto the stage; it wasn’t there when we started. So now you have the Democratic Party at least having a vote on whether they’re going to have a [climate] debate, and you have two major networks fostering debate. I don’t see evidence that that would have happened without us.

Two, we have demonstrated the existence of a strong grassroots constituency. I started with 19 percent name identification and no money in the bank, from the northwest corner of a small state, and we ended up backed by 130,000 people who believe in this message.

And three, I think our plan was very comprehensive, and now it’s available for whoever ends up in the White House.


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates on July 31, 2019.

Inslee at the Democratic primary debate.
Paul Sancya/AP

David Roberts

Are there any Democratic candidates you think are better on climate than the others?

Jay Inslee

Yes, there is variety on how aggressive they are. I’m not going to comment right now, or try to rate them. At a later date, I intend to be active, to encourage them all to be more aggressive. And so I’ll preserve my ability to do that as we go forward.

They all have … an opportunity to grow. [laughs]

David Roberts

On September 4, CNN is holding a climate forum. Is there anything in particular you would like to see them press candidates on?

Jay Inslee

There’s a hundred questions to answer. They all funnel into: “Please show us how your policies will produce this result on this timeline.”

The timeline is perhaps the most important. Because all of the candidates, to some degree, have said by 2050, we have to be better. And the point I’ve made repeatedly is that doesn’t cut it. It’s like a marathon: You have to start running right away. We have to have substantial reduction in fossil fuels in the next decade. That requires deadlines and a regulatory approach. So there are a hundred questions.

David Roberts

What’s your plan for the rest of the campaign?

Jay Inslee

We will head home and talk to the local press, then take a couple days off. And then I’ll be back in business for every good Democratic I can help. We got races here [in Washington]. We got races around the country.

David Roberts

Are you going to run for governor again?

Jay Inslee

That will be revealed in a few days.


Protestors Rally At US Customs And Border Patrol HQ In Washington DC

Inslee, definitely not announcing that he’s running for governor in Washington in 2020.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

David Roberts

Say a Democratic president wins in 2021. They’ll face tattered relationships with other countries, a completely hollowed-out federal bureaucracy, and possibly a recession. It’s like Obama all over again. How does a president prioritize climate change when there are multiple fires burning?

Jay Inslee

I think emergencies like that make big changes more likely rather than less likely. It gives you a chance to justify massive investments. So, you know, don’t mark me as praying for recession, but I would not discount our ability to do big things on climate, even in those circumstances.

Look, this is basically an infrastructure and jobs issue. We forget this a little bit because of the charm of solar panels and wind turbines. We forget that every building in the United States needs to be retrofitted. That’s the biggest infrastructure project since the interstate freeway system. It offers a good opportunity to push the “go” button.

David Roberts

You’ve come out repeatedly against the Senate filibuster. Did you see that Harry Reid joined your call?

Jay Inslee

The former leader of the Senate! I think that’s a voice that should be listened to. Especially because it agrees with me. [laughs] It was a twofer: He said climate should be number one. And he said we have to get rid of the filibuster. I’ve always been a Harry Reid fan.

David Roberts

Have you got any traction on the filibuster issue? The math seems clear, but very few people want to take up the point.

Jay Inslee

There’s one candidate, one senator, who totally agrees with me, and that’s Elizabeth Warren. There are other senators who have waffled and wishy-washed and done the twist around it but haven’t come down where they need to be. So yeah, I’ve been disappointed in some of the response from the senators.

People will have a moment of sobriety after the election. They’ll say, geez, we just won the Senate, perhaps we should do something with it! Maybe they’ll decide that the Senate is a car with no tires until you get rid of the filibuster. Presidential leadership could push that along.

There’s also the possibility you could get 48 Democrats and two Republicans on something positive — but only if the filibuster’s gone.

David Roberts

Conventional wisdom is that Mitch McConnell, if he stays in control of the Senate, will inevitably ditch the filibuster for his own reasons.

Jay Inslee

He’ll take it piece by piece, a bite here and a bite there. So yes, eventually it might be gone. But we’d rather hurry the demise.

And this is just one of America’s structural problems. There’s the filibuster, gerrymandering, the Electoral College, voting rights — they all blend into the same dynamic, which is that DC is functionally incapacitated by these archaic rules.

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