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Schoolchildren debate Sen. Feinstein on 'Green New Deal.' Her reply? 'I know what I'm doing.'

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Washington Post photo by Calla Kessler.

An exchange between Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and a group of schoolchildren petitioning her to advocate for the "Green New Deal" went viral, drawing criticism and prompting a response from the senator.

About 15 middle- and high school students in the San Francisco Bay area met with Feinstein on Friday, asking the six-term senator whether she would vote for the ambitious climate change proposal introduced earlier this month by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts. An edited video of their meeting was shared on social media by the Sunrise Movement, a self-described "army of young people" striving to elect leadership who will address the urgent nature of climate change, according to their website. The group also posted an unedited version of the video on its Facebook page.

Feinstein told the gaggle of students that she doesn't support the deal, mainly because there is "no way to pay for it."

The Sunrise Movement, which The New York Times notes has held protests and rallies this week aimed at Democrats who have not voiced their support of the Green New Deal, later said they found Feinstein's tone toward the young children to be callous.

"But we have come to a point where our Earth is dying, and it is literally a pricey and ambitious plan that is needed to deal with the magnitude of that issue," a 16-year-old student replied. "So we're asking you to vote 'yes' on the resolution for the Green New Deal because -"

The senator interrupted, "That resolution will not pass the Senate. And you can take that back to whoever sent you here." She added, "I've been in the Senate for a quarter of a century, and I know what can pass, and I know what can't pass."

Feinstein noted how the plan lacks support from Republicans, who control the Senate. She also discussed her own climate change legislation, which she claimed rivals the Green New Deal and has a "much better chance of passing." She offered to provide copies for each child and asked them to review it and let her know if they see issues.

The children responded by pointing to military funding, and then argued for drastic action as some scientists estimate the world has just over 10 years to address climate change before its effects are irreversible.

"Any plan that doesn't take bold, transformative action is not going to be what we need," one young woman said.

"Well you know better than I do, so I think one day you should run for the Senate." Feinstein responded. "Then you can do it your way."

The senator also touted her years of experience, at one point noting the children in the room were not old enough to vote for her.

"You know what's interesting about this group is I've been doing this for 30 years. I know what I'm doing," Feinstein said. "You come in here and say, it has to my way or the highway. I don't respond to that."

She did not say definitively which way she'd vote on the deal, telling one student she could support the measure. "I may do that, we'll see," she said. "I don't know."

Republicans have attacked the Green New Deal, asserting it reeks of socialism, as The Post's Salvador Rizzo notes. In a tweet earlier this month, President Donald Trump likened the proposal to permanently eliminating "all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil Gas & the Military." (The Post's Fact Checker said this is untrue.)

Some Democrats have also expressed skepticism of the deal, which calls for 100 percent clean electricity and projects to reduce carbon emissions across the United States. The Post's Dino Grandoni reported that "fault lines within the Democratic caucus were already visible" the day the bill was introduced, "with some members urging caution about setting vague and, at times, impossible-to-achieve goals to only fall short."

Several Democratic presidential candidates, however, have endorsed it, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The abridged version of the video posted to Twitter on Friday evening by the Sunrise Movement quickly went viral, amassing nearly 6 million views by Saturday morning. That video underscored some of the more fiery remarks Feinstein made and was posted with the caption, "This is how @SenFeinstein reacted to children asking her to support the #GreenNewDeal resolution - with smugness + disrespect."

"This is a fight for our generation's survival. Her reaction is why young people desperately want new leadership in Congress," they wrote.

The two videos have given rise to many interpretations of Feinstein's interaction with the children. Some agreed with the Sunrise Movement's claim that was short and dismissive of the students. Others found the negative reaction to her comments as unreasonable, especially after watching the full video.

Feinstein issued a response late Friday, writing in a tweet she and the group had a "spirited discussion" and that she'd listened to the young children who lobbied in her office. Toward the end of the longer video, the senator is seen speaking with one of the students about a potential internship opportunity.

"Unfortunately, it was a brief meeting, but I want to the children to know they were heard loud and clear," Feinstein wrote. "I have been and remain committed to doing everything I can to enact real, meaningful climate change legislation."

This article was written by Michael Brice-Saddler, a reporter for The Washington Post.