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A group of youth climate activists occupied House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's office in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to condemn the Republican leader and his caucus for pushing the U.S. government to the brink of a destructive shutdown as they demand draconian cuts to food aid, housing assistance, and environmental programs.
"We are fed up and we won't take it anymore," said Adah Crandall a 17-year-old Sunrise Movement organizer who joined a number of other climate activists inside McCarthy's (R-Calif.) office. "As storms rage stronger, fires grow hotter, and heatwaves grow more deadly, Kevin McCarthy is playing political games with our futures. We're facing a climate emergency and McCarthy can't even do his job."
The Sunrise Movement said around 150 students from across the nation traveled to Capitol Hill Thursday to take part in the protest, which comes just two days before the federal government is set to shut down.
Eighteen youth activists were arrested outside of McCarthy's office during the demonstration, according to the climate group.
Earlier Thursday, the Biden administration began notifying government employees that they could soon be temporarily furloughed after McCarthy rejected a bipartisan short-term funding proposal put forth in the U.S. Senate this week.
"Speaker McCarthy is a coward," Shiva Rajbhandari, a 19-year-old Sunrise Movement organizer. "McCarthy and Republicans can either do their jobs, act on the climate crisis, and fund our schools, or they can risk our economy to appease a few extremists. Our generation is watching and we will hold them accountable for their actions."
The impacts of a shutdown on critical government functions and programs—and the overall U.S. economy—could be massive.
"With each passing day, Washington would further deplete federal safety net programs that carry over their unused money from past years," The Washington Post's Tony Romm reported earlier this week. "Eventually, the government might not be able to provide some poor families with childcare, nutrition assistance, housing vouchers, or college financial aid. The longer a shutdown persists, the greater the blow it could ultimately deliver to an economy that has teetered for more than a year on the precipice of recession."
Food & Water Action warned Thursday that "in the event of a shutdown, serious and specific threats to food and water safety could immediately arise," noting that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulators "could be forced to suspend critical safety inspections at drinking water sources, hazardous Superfund waste sites, and chemical facilities."
Additionally, the group noted, the EPA "would be forced to shut down the $15 billion project to replace dangerous lead water pipes throughout the country, putting impacted families at continued risk."
"By driving this country to the brink of a shutdown, congressional Republicans are proving once again, in stark relief, that they simply don't care about the health and well-being of the American people," said Mitch Jones, deputy director of Food & Water Action. "Nowhere is this more obvious than in their willingness to shut down critical food and water safety inspections that occur every day across the country."
"Rather than working with Democrats to responsibly fund the government, Speaker McCarthy and his slim majority are catering to the most extreme right-wing members in an already extreme caucus," Jones added. "House Republicans should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and they must be shown the door in 2024."