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'Our Pressure Is Working' Says Sunrise Movement as CNN and MSNBC Announce Climate Events for 2020 White House Hopefuls

"But we also want to be clear: these are not climate debates," the group added, reiterating its demand for a DNC-sponsored debate

sunrise protesters

The youth-led Sunrise Movement launched a campaign earlier this month to urge the Democratic Party to hold a 2020 presidential primary debate about the climate crisis. (Photo: Sunrise Movement/Twitter)

The Sunrise Movement celebrated Thursday as CNN and MSNBC announced climate-focused events featuring 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates, but reiterated its demand that the Democratic Party sponsor a debate solely focused on the White House hopefuls' plans to tackle the global crisis.

"We know that only a DNC-sponsored debate—with all the candidates on the same stage, at the same time—will put the eyes of the nation on this crisis at the scale it demands."
—Sunrise Movement
For the past several months, environmental groups and activists—joined by some candidates—have pressured Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez to support holding a presidential debate on the climate emergency. Despite Perez's opposition to such an event, the DNC is set to vote on the matter next month.

Earlier this month, Sunrise launched a seven-week slate of demonstrations at the local offices of DNC members across the country to urge them to vote in favor of the resolution calling for an official climate debate. In response to the CNN and MSNBC announcements, the youth-led movement declared in a series of tweets Thursday night, "Our pressure is working."

"But we also want to be clear: these are not climate debates," Sunrise added. "We know that only a DNC-sponsored debate—with all the candidates on the same stage, at the same time—will put the eyes of the nation on this crisis at the scale it demands."

"Americans want and deserve more than 15 minutes of discussion on the climate crisis," the group wrote, tagging Perez in its final tweet.


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CNN revealed Thursday that it is inviting all Democratic candidates who hit at least 2 percent in four approved polls by Aug. 28 to join a climate crisis town hall in New York City on Sept. 4. According to the network, "the climate town hall will follow a similar format to ones CNN held earlier this year in Austin, Texas, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Washington, D.C., in which Democratic candidates appeared back-to-back across the course of the evening."

The Daily Beast reported Thursday that MSNBC is partnering with Our Daily Planet—which sends daily morning emails about environmental news—and the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service "to host a multi-day climate change forum with the 2020 presidential candidates."

According to the institute's executive director Mo Elleithee, the university has blocked out Sept. 19 and 20 for the event. Every single presidential candidate—Republicans included—has been invited to participate.

At this stage, each candidate who participates has been promised an hour of airtime—the first 30 minutes being a moderated conversation with MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes or Ali Velshi; the second half a Q&A session with students from Georgetown, other D.C. universities, and early primary states. The event is expected to be live-streamed on NBC News Now with parts of the event featured on Hayes' primetime MSNBC show over two nights.

These two events "will look different from the official DNC debates, which restrict candidates to timed answers and have strict guidelines in place for behavior and moderator questions," Grist noted. And there's a reason for that: "When Perez handed down his ruling in June, he said that participating in non-DNC-sanctioned debates will prevent candidates from engaging in the party's official debates."

In a trio of tweets Thursday, David Turnbull of Oil Change International and U.S. Climate Action Network welcomed the events but maintained that a DNC-sponsored debate "is critical" to demonstrate that the party understands the crisis and "allow candidates to challenge each other and educate voters on the differences in their plans."

While groups continue to call for a DNC debate, the newly announced climate events are ultimately being framed as victories for the movement. As Justice Democrats put it in a tweet: "We won. Organizing works."

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