Campaign

Harris to appear in CNN climate town hall after backlash

White House hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) will attend a CNN town hall focused on climate change next month after previously saying a scheduling conflict prevented her from participating in the event.

The California Democrat was hammered by environmental groups, including the Sunrise Movement, after Harris was the only one of nine initial Democrats invited to the town hall who did not confirm her attendance.

"We were happy to change our schedule to accommodate such a critical conversation," Lily Adams, the Harris campaign's communications director, said in a statement to The Hill. "As Senator Harris has said, this is a climate crisis and is one of the most urgent reasons we need a new president."

Sunrise had accused Harris of skipping the climate town hall to attend a fundraiser. 

The Hill could not independently confirm she was due to attend a fundraiser at the same time as the CNN town hall. Her campaign did not reply to requests for comment about whether she had a fundraising event.

Sunrise welcomed Harris's commitment to attend the climate town hall.

"We're glad she listened to young people and made the right choice here. Choosing big donors over our futures is what got us into this mess. We need a leader ready to change course," Varshini Prakash, Sunrise's co-founder, said in a statement. 

"The uncertainty over whether Senator Harris would attend goes to show why we absolutely need a standalone climate debate sponsored by the Democratic Party that every candidate feels is mandatory. A climate debate would show which politicians are ready to take this crisis seriously and give millions of young people a sense of hope and possibility unlike anything we've felt in years," she added.

Thanu Yakupitiyage, spokesperson for 350 Action, said the environmental action group welcomed the candidate's decision to attend the forum.

"From the get go, Kamala Harris' team should have rearranged her schedule to ensure she would unquestionably attend the CNN climate town hall. 

"Now that she will be in attendance, we look forward to hearing her climate plans, and in particular we're looking to hear her plans on how she would rapidly transition the U.S. off of fossil fuels to a 100% renewable economy and how she will support a green new deal that will create millions of jobs for all."

The event is slated to take place on Sept. 4 in New York before a live audience of Democratic voters. Rather than debate one another, the contenders will make back-to-back appearances.

To receive an invite to the event, candidates will have to reach 2 percent support in four qualifying polls approved by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Candidates have until Wednesday to qualify for the town hall. 

CNN reported Tuesday that 10 candidates have now accepted its invitation: Harris; former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas); Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.); businessman Andrew Yang; and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, the latest addition.

A candidate who will be noticeably absent from the event is Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Despite climate action being his main presidential platform, he has not achieved the 2 percent polling support needed. 

Climate change is emerging as a top issue in the Democratic presidential primary. 

Many candidates and environmental groups have called on the DNC to hold a primary debate dedicated solely to climate change. While the body has not ruled out holding such an event, it has not given a firm commitment to hosting a panel exclusively devoted to the issue.

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