Young people to Joe Biden: You betrayed us on climate change

Young people to Joe Biden: You betrayed us on climate change
Rep. Maxwell FrostAnna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • President Joe Biden's positions in recent weeks have put him at odds with young activists and some Democrats.
  • Rep. Maxwell Frost says Biden broke his promise to young voters by approving oil drilling in Alaska.

President Joe Biden's positions in recent weeks have put him at odds with young activists and members of his party, including the first Gen-Z member of Congress.

Rep. Maxwell Frost, 26, says he is "very disappointed" in Biden for approving the $8 billion ConocoPhillips Willow oil project in Alaska, one of the largest-ever drilling projects on federal land. The move broke Biden's campaign promise to stop new oil drilling on federal land. The representative from Florida says it breaks Biden's commitment to young voters.

"Youth voter turnout was at its highest in 2020 & young folks supported him because of commitments such as 'no more drilling on federal land,'" Frost tweeted on Tuesday night. "That commitment has been broken. We deserve a livable future."

Biden made a "dangerous choice" ahead of 2024 by siding with the fossil fuel industry instead of sticking to his own goals and listening to millions of young people who carried his party for the last three cycles, said Michele Weindling, electoral director for the youth climate action group Sunrise Movement.

"We understand the threat of the GOP, but we also need a vision and a commitment to the values that we care about that will make our lives better," she told Insider.


Young voters played a key role in Biden's 2020 victory, with those aged 18 to 24 at the time voting for him more than any other age group. After the 2022 midterm elections, Biden thanked young people for voting in historic numbers as they did two years prior, acknowledging in a post-election news conference that "they voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms, and the student debt relief."

Biden also specifically referenced his congratulatory call to Frost on his election victory, adding that he told Frost, "when he's President and they say, 'Joe Biden is out in the outer office,' I don't want him to say, 'Joe who?'"

In November, Frost praised Biden in an interview with CNN, saying: "He's been unafraid to put forth bold, transformational ideas and policies, and that's really what excites young voters." He cited legislation on infrastructure and health care and the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes measures to combat climate change.

But on Tuesday night, Frost retweeted a statement from the activist group Gen-Z for Change, a group that was invited to the White House for the Inflation Reduction Act ceremony that now says it is "gravely angered" by the Willow project decision.

"There is no deeper form of betrayal than watching a president who has claimed to value the voices of youth and to respect Indigenous sovereignty blatantly disregard one of our generations' largest and clearest movements," the statement says.


Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in a video on Monday, called the Willow Project a "difficult and complex issue that was inherited" because it involves existing leases issued by previous administrations as far back as the 1990s. "We had limited decision space" she said, noting what was approved is "substantially smaller" than ConocoPhillips originally proposed.

A Biden advisor, responding to a media "narrative" that Biden is taking different positions and hasn't previously had disagreements with progressives, said the administration "has the best relationship with the left and the progressive community of any in modern history."

"Together we've fulfilled long-delayed progressive goals on climate, Medicare, and much more," the advisor said in a statement. "Throughout that there have been disagreements on specific issues, but ceaseless unity on the overall agenda. Look to the entire party's embrace of the President's budget vision last week, the left's positive reaction to the State of the Union, and top progressives joining all manner of other Democrats crediting President Biden with the best midterms for a new Democratic President in 60 years."

Recent Biden moves draw fire from progressives

Progressives have supported many parts of Biden's agenda, but his decisions this month on the Willow project and to allow Congress to overrule a DC crime law have drawn sharp criticism.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York called the DC decision "very infuriating" because the District's criminal code was "antiquated" and Congress should "allow DC to conduct its own business." Biden at the time said he supported DC statehood and home rule, but he opposed some of the changes to their criminal code, such as lowering penalties for carjacking.


Bowman told Insider earlier this month that Biden's decision on the DC crime bill wouldn't impact his 2024 grassroots support "on balance," given that Biden will likely run without Democratic opposition and "it's more likely that the progressive activists are gonna vote for Biden over the Republican challenger."

When contacted after the Willow project decision, which Bowman opposed, he said his thinking had not changed. But he added that he is "very concerned about young people staying home in 2024. We need them."

Sunrise Movement's Weindling said she isn't sure what impact the Alaska drilling decision might have in 2024. But she said it makes activists' jobs harder in trying to get Democrats elected because young people are more mobilized to vote when they believe there are candidates "willing to fight for us."

"I think it's important that President Biden recognize this as a mistake to our generation and make necessary moves in the next year and a half to prove to us that he is serious about fighting for us," she said. "President Biden has a responsibility to uphold the commitments he made to us when we helped elect him and then saved the Democratic Party in 2022."

Republican candidates who have declared their 2024 candidacies so far include Former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Biden has not yet declared his candidacy but is expected to do so soon.


Trump's strategy is to out-flank Republicans and neutralize Biden on economic populist issues, and Biden needs to push back on that front, said Adam Green, co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

"With so much at stake in 2024, this is a really bad time for Biden to be perceived as soft on oil companies — or on bankers who looted their own bank as it was in freefall," he said, referring to a CNBC report of Silicon Valley Bank employees receiving bonuses before regulators seized the failed bank. "It would be a political asset to go hard at the bankers, oil executives, pharma executives, and other odious actors in this moment."