Former Vice President Joe Biden came under fire from progressives Monday as video footage circulated online showing his condescending response to a young woman who questioned him about abandoning his opposition to super PACs in the face of a cash-strapped presidential campaign.
"Since you've reversed and are now taking super PAC money... how can we trust that you're not fighting for the people profiting off climate change?" Lily Levin, an 18-year-old volunteer with the Sunrise Movement, asked the Democratic front-runner at a Sunday night rally in Durham, North Carolina.
Interrupting her question, a visibly frustrated Biden replied, "Look at my record, child."
Lily asked @JoeBiden how young people can trust he'll fight for us when he's opened the door SuperPACs, which would allow any amount of dark fossil fuel money to support his campaign.
His response: “Look at my record, child." pic.twitter.com/NmpX2B1jUq
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) October 28, 2019
The short clip sparked swift outrage. In These Times associate editor Dayton Martindale tweeted, "Biden's condescension and unjustified arrogance—his climate record isn't that good!—are exactly why youth need meaningful democratic input in climate policy."
Levin, meanwhile, said Monday that "I am upset that Joe Biden did not address any of the content of my question, and instead referred to me in a condescending way."
"He referenced 'good paying jobs' and renewable energy in his speech, but he seems to be all talk," the activist continued. "His support for former fossil fuel executives shows that he has continued to undermine low income communities of color—specifically Indigenous and Black communities—through environmental racism and injustice, both here in eastern North Carolina and nationally."
Although Biden declined to actually engage with the content of Levin's question, some critics seized on his remark and examined his record on climate issues.
As the Sunrise Movement detailed in a statement Moday,
his record on climate change is mixed. The Obama-Biden administration promoted an all-of-the-above energy policy that promoted natural gas and fracking, despite the rapid need to totally transition away from fossil fuels. In his 2020 campaign, he's refused to join other candidates in calling for a ban on fracking and put forward a $1.7 trillion climate plan, much less ambitious than some of his rivals' plans. Moreover, he's hired Heather Zichal to advise his climate policy, who earned more than $1 million as a board member of a natural gas company.
While the movement's climate scorecard for the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary race is forthcoming, Biden has ranked in the middle and at the bottom of scorecards from other groups as the other two top tier candidates—Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—have earned higher grades.
Warren's campaign, in a fundraising email Monday, wrote that "I'm not counting on a billionaire to fund a super PAC for me—because the Democratic primary can't just be one more plaything for the rich and powerful."
In a statement last week, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir called Biden's reversal on super PACs "a recipe to maintain a corrupt political system which enriches wealthy donors and leaves the working class behind."
Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash concurred, calling the ex-vice president's move "deeply troubling."
"No one knows if the new super PAC is taking huge sums of money from executives at Exxon, BP, and Chevron, and that makes us doubt his commitment to climate action," said Prakash. "Biden needs to wrestle seriously with young people demanding real leadership, and stop dismissing young women asking him legitimate questions as children."