The faction of the Republican Party that cares much about climate change is small. But it just scored an influential advocate with deep connections in Congress and in conservative political circles across the country.
Kelly Ayotte, a prominent national figure in Republican politics, will join the center-right Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) as a senior adviser, the former New Hampshire senator told McClatchy.
It’s a nonprofit that champions the pursuit of renewable energy policies at the federal and state levels, and aims to boost Republicans who prioritize “clean energy solutions” without compromising economic growth. Ayotte joins as the group lays down plans to play in the 2018 congressional elections and, for the first time, in governors' races around the country.
“I find especially younger voters care very much about having clean air, clean water—it’s an issue that we should be looking for ways for Republicans to lead on,” Ayotte said.
The organization, founded in 2013, has previously endorsed members of Congress including Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo and retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Pennsylvania Reps. Charlie Dent, Brian Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello, among others. It’s an endorsement list that includes members who are skeptical of climate change but do support clean energy, as well as those who are more directly seeking to fight climate change.
CRES plans to aid many of those lawmakers again through public endorsements as well as “investments in TV ads, mail campaigns, phone campaigns, occasionally on-the-ground digital and online communications” in support of their congressional allies, said James Dozier, the executive director and chairman of the CRES board, adding that the group is also looking at expanding to gubernatorial races.
“It’s an endorsement that says, ‘I very much care about finding pragmatic solutions to protecting our environment that make sure we have a strong economy,’” said Ayotte, who was endorsed by the organization in her last race. “For too long, sometimes this has been an issue where people think it’s a choice between one or the other. I think it’s a false choice.”
In 2015, Ayotte co-founded an environmental working group with several other Republicans in the Senate, and was considered one of her party’s more moderate members before she lost to now-Sen. Maggie Hassan by a razor-thin margin in November. Since then, she has helped shepherd Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination through the Senate, and earlier this year was talked about as a possible FBI director, according to POLITICO.
“The unique role that she plays, given the years of work she’s done in this space…helps open new doors, build new relationships with allies on and off the Hill,” Dozier said.
Ayotte’s new job comes as President Donald Trump cryptically said last week that “something could happen with respect to” the Paris climate accord, which he had previously announced he intended to abandon. The initial exiting of the accord was a reflection of the fact that many Republicans do not prioritize addressing climate change, if they believe in it at all. But an affiliate of CRES, CRES Forum, had urged Trump to renegotiate the accord rather than abandon it, and Dozier said that some of the members the organization has backed see grappling with climate change as a policy and political imperative.
“In Florida, Carlos Curbelo has been very active in this conversation, and as a younger member of the party is certainly talking to the next generation of voters about an issue they don’t really see as much as a debate over climate, and more a conversation about what to do about it,” he said, referencing the Miami-area Republican. “Ryan Costello is another perfect example of an up-and-coming Republican star who understands it’s not only smart politics in terms of making sure we’re constantly globally competitive in how we produce energy, it’s also a political reality: for a growing number of voters this issue isn’t a debate. It’s how we address it. That’s where the conversation is.”
Ayotte will be offering big-picture guidance on how best to approach that “conversation” on Capitol Hill and more broadly, especially when it comes to engaging Republicans.
“My responsibilities are going to be to advise them at a high level on how to approach this debate, how to bring people to the table for a national dialogue around renewable energy solutions, pro-environment, pro-economy policies,” she said.
Such policies could include promoting a modernized energy grid, advanced energy technology and pursuing renewable energy, from solar to wind.
“It’s an issue that people care about, it’s an issue that voters, they want solutions and things that make sense,” she said. “…They want to make sure, yes, we have a strong economy, let’s also make sure we’re preserving our natural resources and beauty for the next generation. I certainly heard about it on the campaign trail. I think it’s a very important issue.”