The grade school understanding of Congress is that the Senate was meant to be the erudite center of sophisticated deliberations undertaken by wise policymakers somewhat insulated from the whims of public fancy by their six-year terms. Meanwhile, the House is for the riff-raff, the two-year terms held by up-and-comers making a name for themselves in a flashier, more populist fashion.
And sure enough, the Hill was true to form last week, when a pair of simultaneous hearings in the House and Senate showed just how serious, and how silly, Congress can be.
In the Senate, the Democratically-controlled Budget Committee's hearing on the National Costs of Climate Change featured former Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist and former right-wing Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Republicans invited former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose oafish performance was more fit for the House shenanigans.
There, the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee hearing on ESG was a bit of a mess, to put it lightly. Testimony ranged from Alabama Attorney General (AG) Steven Marshall's oh-so-subtly antisemitic testimony alleging that an "unelected cabal of global elites are using ESG, a woke economic strategy, to hijack our capitalist system" to Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman's white supremacist, "great-replacement" adjacent conspiracies about the "certain disfavored groups in our society" that are supposedly being discriminated against in hiring and promotion practices: "people with a European background."
Why such obviously ridiculous shenanigans? Because the finance industry is weighing environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks (like a company being super racist and getting sued, or super sexist and getting sued, or super polluting and getting sued). But that makes the racist, sexist, polluting backers of the Republican Party upset, and because that's who they truly represent, the GOP is embracing this highly unpopular attempt to stifle businesses and shackle their beloved invisible hand of the free market.
"For those trying to understand their crusade," Kate Aronoff explained, "the hearing showed that it’s best to think of ESG as a canvas onto which the right projects its own plans and anxieties." For example, Republicans invited two AGs who tried to overturn the 2020 election to now claim that ESG is actually an assault on democracy.
"In other words," Aronoff wrote, "someone who’s spent the last several years attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election took to the Capitol on Tuesday to accuse an ill-defined set of actors of trying to sidestep democracy by asking companies if climate-fueled droughts, floods, and fires (for instance) might have some impact on their operations."
What's fueling this unhinged and unpopular rhetoric? Fossil fuels. And what's enabling it? An eager right-wing press. Malcolm Turnbull was direct about it, too, in his testimony in the Senate. "From my point of view as PM the biggest obstacle to climate action was always political and from within the right wing of my own Party supported by right wing media."
While the US and Australia are certainly different, "a common denominator is Rupert Murdoch," according to Turnbull, because "his media outlets have been consistent opponents of action to address global warming and represent by far the loudest voice denying the reality of climate change and resisting measures to decarbonise."
And in the same way the Koch network replaced Republican Bob Inglis with Trey Gowdy when Inglis dared be serious about climate change, it was "Rupert Murdoch and his media platforms," who "drove a leadership challenge" to Turnbull that resulted in his ousting and replacement with denier Scott Morrison. But then Morrison suffered a "devastating loss" in 2022 because he and the Liberal Party were "reluctant to take effective action to address global warming."
Former Prime Minister Turnbull stated that he had often said that climate change was "a problem that called for economics and engineering," but "was too often the subject of ideology and idiocy."
And at that very moment, over in the House, they were proving him right.