WASHINGTON — Carlos Curbelo’s climate-change record took a step down in 2017 in the eyes of one influential environmental group, as the Miami Republican gears up for a reelection bid in a Miami-to-Key West district that is still recovering from Hurricane Irma and dealing with the effects of sea level rise.
The League of Conservation Voters released its 2017 scorecard on Tuesday, and Curbelo, who had the best score among House Republicans currently in Congress on the 2016 scorecard, now ranks tied for 13th among House Republicans. Curbelo had a 53 percent rating for his votes during 2016, and now has a 23 percent rating for his votes last year.
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Curbelo said when asked about his rating. “I don’t follow NRA ratings, chamber ratings, League of Conservation Voters ratings. I just try to do the right thing on every vote and I usually end up finding out about my scores later come campaign season.”
Part of Curbelo’s drop can be attributed to Hurricane Irma, as he missed a series of votes while dealing with the hurricane in September. The eight missed votes due to the hurricane count against him on the LCV’s scorecard.
But even if he had received a 100 percent score on his missed votes, Curbelo would still have a 49 percent rating, which is lower than his 2016 mark. The downgrade comes after a year in which Curbelo expressed pro-environment positions, like opposing President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, while also voting for bills like the Republican tax plan that included a measure allowing oil exploration in a portion of Alaska’s North Slope.
Curbelo’s office said he would have voted for the LCV-favored position on six of the nine votes he missed in 2017, meaning his rating would have been 40 percent instead of 23 percent.
The LCV said it would like to see more legislative work from Curbelo’s Climate Solutions Caucus, a group founded by Curbelo and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, that is comprised of lawmakers from both parties who are concerned about the impacts of climate change.
“Environmental votes weren’t always as partisan as they’ve become today,” LCV press secretary Alyssa Roberts said. “We would love to see higher scores from Republicans, and appreciate the Climate Solutions Caucus as a step to build bipartisan support, but the urgency of the climate crisis requires action, not just talk.”
Curbelo said the LCV is a partisan organization whose primary concern is getting Democrats to Washington, and that scorecards like theirs are “all subjective … designed to yield a certain score.”
Only one House Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, had a 2017 LCV score lower than Curbelo’s.
But Sara Chieffo, LCV’s vice president for government affairs, said the scorecard is a non-political document that is calculated by votes, not words.
“We really appreciate the work that Congressman Curbelo is doing to act on climate change and taking concrete steps like founding the Climate Solutions Caucus,” Chieffo said. “At the same time … the Republicans in the Climate Solutions Caucus average a pretty low 16 percent. The caucus itself chose to rally itself around one climate amendment last year. We would have liked to see the caucus rally around more votes.”
The LCV also has a political arm that could get involved in Curbelo’s reelection bid against Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell by running television ads or funding mailers, but Roberts said the group hasn’t decided whether to actively oppose Curbelo in 2018.
Curbelo’s reaction to the LCV scorecard mirrors his rhetoric after the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a group made up of all Democrats, blocked his bid to join their ranks in November. He blasted that decision as a partisan move meant to hinder his reelection chances.
“LCV has worked hard to block the growing bipartisan consensus in Congress on issues related to climate and the environment,” Curbelo said. “As they’ve demonstrated over the years and through their advocacy on different issues that have nothing to do with environmental policy, their goal is to get Democrats elected to Congress first, and then they also advocate for environmental policies. So they have their priorities mixed up.”
Other environmental groups like the Citizens Climate Lobby which support Curbelo acknowledged that many climate advocates keep their eye on the LCV’s scorecard, but that simply scoring votes doesn’t fully encompass behind-the-scenes work done by Republicans on the Climate Solutions Caucus.
“We don’t think the scorecard accurately captures the emerging work being done by the caucus to develop bipartisan solutions to climate change,” CCL executive director Mark Reynolds said. “Much is happening behind the scenes, thanks to the caucus, and we think patience will eventually be rewarded with major legislation to address climate change.”
Curbelo said voters in South Florida, not groups based in Washington, will ultimately have the final say over his environmental record.
The LCV is “not interested in seeing more Republicans supporting the cause of a clean planet,” Curbelo said. “They’re interested in getting more Democrats elected to Congress, which is fine, but they just should be transparent about it.”
Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty