Senator Dianne Feinstein found herself in a standoff Friday with a group of schoolchildren who confronted her about her refusal to support the Green New Deal.
In a video posted by the Sunrise Movement, which encourages young people to combat climate change, an exchange quickly became tense once Ms. Feinstein started to explain her opposition to the Green New Deal, an ambitious Democratic-led proposal that calls for a radical transformation of the United States’ energy sector.
“There’s no way to pay for it,” Ms. Feinstein told the group of about 15 children at her San Francisco office.
“We have tons of money going to the military,” a young girl responded, only to receive a lecture about the realpolitik of passing bills in a Republican-led Senate.
“That resolution will not pass the Senate, and you can take that back to whoever sent you here and tell them,” said Ms. Feinstein, Democrat of California. She added, “I’ve been in the Senate for over a quarter of a century and I know what can pass and I know what can’t pass.”
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, plans to bring the Green New Deal to a vote as early as next week, a move that could split Democrats. Republicans hope to put Democrats, particularly those running for president in 2020, on the record regarding a plan that the right has ridiculed as a “socialist fantasy.”
The Green New Deal calls for a “10-year mobilization” to make the United States carbon neutral, meaning as much carbon would have to be absorbed as emitted into the atmosphere. It also requires shifting away from fossil fuels and supplying 100 percent of the country’s electricity from carbon-free energy sources.
Twelve Democratic senators have embraced the proposal, which was introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. Members of the Sunrise Movement have held rallies and protests this week urging Democrats who have not co-sponsored the measure to vote for it when it comes to the floor.
In a statement late Friday, Ms. Feinstein called the interaction with the Sunrise Movement “a spirited discussion” and said she wanted the children to know that “they were heard loud and clear.”
“I have been and remain committed to doing everything I can to enact real, meaningful climate change legislation,” she said.
Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, in a statement called Ms. Feinstein “out of touch” and said the interaction shows that the Democratic Party needs “fundamental change.”
The exchange between Ms. Feinstein and the children became more testy when an adult accompanying them told the senator that “if this doesn’t get turned around in 10 years, you’re looking at the faces of the people who are going to be living with the consequences.”
Ms. Feinstein chafed at the lecture, replying that she has seven grandchildren and is mindful of the threat of climate change. A decade ago, she championed ambitious legislation that would have put a cap on emissions that cause climate-warming pollution.
“You know what’s interesting about this group?” she asked. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that.”
Ms. Feinstein then tried to explain an alternate measure she has endorsed, which calls for a slightly later timeline in reducing carbon emissions. That solution, a young woman replied, is not good enough.
“You know better than I do, so I think one day you should run for the Senate and then you do it your way,” Ms. Feinstein told the young woman.
“Great,” she replied. “I will.”