THE VIRAL CONFRONTATION WITH DIANNE FEINSTEIN HAD A POLITICAL IMPACT MOST PUNDITS MISSED
Aída Chávez, Ryan Grim
March 1 2019, 1:00 p.m.
THERE IS TWITTER, and there is the real world. Occasionally, the two meet.
It happened over the last week, starting with a visit by a group of children and young climate activists to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Bay Area office last Friday. Their exchange — about whether the California senator would vote for or co-sponsor the Green New Deal resolution authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. — went viral. It led to a turbocharged debate about whether the video had been edited, but it also brought with it a tangible change in the halls of Congress.
In her now-infamous response, Feinstein said she was in the process of drafting her own, more moderate resolution on confronting climate change that she felt would have a better chance of passing in the GOP-run Senate. The group of young people, who ranged from 11 to 24, were from several different climate action groups, including the Sunrise Movement, Youth vs. Apocalypse, and Bay Area Earth Guardians. The viral Twitter clip has racked up more than 9 million views, and was the first time many people had heard of Feinstein’s alternative resolution, and when climate activists learned about it, they went into overdrive to stop it. Feinstein, facing pressure, this week elected to shelve it. [...]
On Tuesday, the Sunrise Movement led a nationwide day of action, holding office visits, rallies, and office takeovers across 34 states to pressure lawmakers from both parties, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to support Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s resolution. That their conversations with Democrats have borne more fruit should be instructive as they try to gin up more support the Green New Deal.
WHEN HOPING TO stop a bold piece of legislation that has broad public support, one of the oldest moves on the Senate floor is to introduce a different version that is claimed to be just as good, but more reasonable. [...]
It’s a hard play to combat, but with so much attention on Feinstein, activists had a slight advantage. Members of Climate Hawks Vote, a California-based political organization that focuses on climate, fired off nearly 2,000 letters to Feinstein within 48 hours of the exchange, while other activists, from organizations such as Sierra Club and Indivisible, put pressure on Feinstein, asking her not to introduce her own resolution.
“Senator Feinstein’s draft resolution didn’t respect the science,” RL Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, said in a statement. “It ignored politically popular aspects of the Green New Deal such as a jobs program. It ignored the need to keep California’s oil in the ground — and it’s inexcusable that California’s senior senator writes a resolution ignoring Trump’s threat to drill for oil off the California coast.” [...]
More than 90 members of Congress, including 12 senators, are co-sponsoring Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s nonbinding resolution, which lays out a decade-long plan that would envision a dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of millions of “good, high-wage jobs,” and a relatively rapid goal of 100 percent clean electricity.
On Monday, the Sunrise Movement, in the form of roughly 250 Kentucky high schoolers, occupied McConnell’s Senate office, resulting in 35 arrests. Some protesters held up a banner that read “Mitch, Look Us in the Eyes,” while others lined the halls outside his office.
While the sit-in got little attention in the press, it appeared to have gotten McConnell’s. The majority leader, who is up for re-election in 2020, had recently been eager to put the Green New Deal on the Senate floor. All of a sudden, however, he suggested that it would come up at some point before the August recess.
The dampened enthusiasm may have been related to a realization that while a “no” vote is easy in a deep-red state, it’s not a simple call for senators in swing states like Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst) and Maine (Susan Collins). Each of their states is deeply feeling the effects of climate change already; they are all up for re-election in 2020; and all of them faced protests by Sunrise activists.
“This wouldn’t have happened without thousands of people across the country pressuring senators of both parties. Two weeks ago, McConnell was excitedly telling the media about his plans. Now, he seems happy to let this vote be forgotten,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise. “You can bet Mitch McConnell was hearing from his own caucus about this vote. There were sit-ins and rallies at the offices of the Republicans most vulnerable in 2020: Ernst, [David] Perdue, Collins, Gardner, and of course, McConnell himself. They’re smart and don’t want to stand on the wrong side on the Green New Deal, which is very popular in their states.”