Over the weekend, climate change policy took center stage after a video of Dianne Feinstein addressing the Green New Deal in front of a group of kids went viral. In the video, the children ask Feinstein to support the deal, and in response, she characterizes it as being too costly and having little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate.
More than a dozen high school and middle school aged kids from the youth-centered climate change activism group known as Sunrise Movement met with Feinstein at her San Francisco office on Friday to urge the California senator to support the Green New Deal resolution currently before the House. But in video of the group's meeting, Feinstein appeared unable to be swayed.
While Feinstein characterized the meeting as "a spirited discussion" in a statement sent to Bustle, Sunrise Movement had a different description of how the interaction went down.
"This is how @SenFeinstein reacted to children asking her to support the #GreenNewDeal resolution — with smugness + disrespect," the group wrote in a tweet featuring edited video of the meeting. "This is a fight for our generation's survival. Her reaction is why young people desperately want new leadership in Congress." A longer and unedited video of the interaction can be found on the group's Facebook page.
Feinstein, however, has pushed back on claims she was disrespectful or somehow dismissed the children. "Unfortunately, it was a brief meeting but I want the children to know they were heard loud and clear," she said. "We had a spirited discussion and I presented the group with my draft resolution that provides specific responses to the climate change crisis, which I plan to introduce soon." She went on to say she "always welcomes the opportunity to hear from Californians who feel passionately about this issue."
Video of the interaction shows Feinstein did move to share her alternative legislation for addressing climate change with the school children, who appear committed to promoting the Green New Deal. "There's reasons why I can't, because there's no way to pay for it," Feinstein begins to say of why she's unlikely to vote yes on the resolution before one child interrupts her to say, "We have tons of money going to military."
"The United States government does a lot of things with the money, and they're important things," the senator said in response. "You just can't go in and say, 'ok we're going to take hundreds of millions from here and hundreds of millions from there.' It just doesn't work that way." She goes on to say that she does not agree with what's in the Green New Deal and urges the children to read her plan and let her know what they think of it as she believes it has a better chance of passing.
"I've been in the Senate for over a quarter of a century and I know what can pass and what can't pass," she said. "The key is to get something passed that puts us on the right foot and we're able to deal with the problem that's happening instead of something that won't get passed." That being said, the senator also said at one point that she might vote yes on the Green New Deal as a symbolic gesture of her commitment to addressing climate change.
When one member of the group jumps in to tell Feinstein she's "looking at the faces of the people who will be living with" the consequences of not acting on climate change or passing the Green New Deal, the senator shoots back that she knows what she's doing.
"I've been doing this for 30 years. I know what I'm doing," Feinstein said. "You come in here and you say, 'It has to be my way or the highway.' I don't respond to that."
As the group continued to push for Feinstein to support the Green New Deal, one young woman — who later identified herself as being 16 — argued that Feinstein is supposed to listen to them because they're the people who voted for her. "Well, you didn't vote for me," the senator quipped. (Spoiler alert: this young woman likely walked away from the encounter with an internship "You want to do an internship here? You got one," Feinstein can be heard saying before turning to her staff and adding, "She can have an internship here.")
Feinstein later told another member of the group she thought she should run for the Senate. "And then you do it your way," she said. "But in the meantime, I just won a big election."