Washington • Kyle has five AP exams to take and five U.S. senators to meet.
English, history, calculus, statistics, physics.
Schumer, Murphy, Hatch, Rubio, Cruz.
Right now, with his life upside down, the senators are priority one.
“It’s insane,” Kyle Kashuv said Wednesday at a Cosi in downtown Washington, D.C. “This has never been my dream. I never really wanted to get into politics. The entire thing has been surreal.”
He had just flown in, alone, from Parkland, Fla. He’s a 16-year-old junior at the most famous high school in the country right now, and he should be studying. Instead, three weeks to the day since the massacre at Stoneman Douglas, Kyle was sitting in the nation’s capital with a rolling suitcase. His phone battery was at 9 percent. His backpack was the size of a boulder. He has a bunch of English essays due this month.
The D.C. trip was somewhat last minute, and still coming together, and it was happening in the most important semester of his high-school career.
“This is, like, the worst time I could possibly do this,” said Kyle, unaware that within 24 hours he’d be sitting in the Oval Office with the president.
Kyle’s parents immigrated from Israel in the 1990s. He grew up in leafy, placid Parkland, and aspires to get an MBA and a job on Wall Street. The 2016 election was the first he paid attention to. He liked what Donald Trump had to say about immigration, the wall, the idea of “America First.”
After the shooting, Kyle joined Twitter, where he fought for the middle ground. His second-ever tweet was a thank you to Hillary Clinton for defending Parkland students against smears.
In New York, a 19-year-old “influencer marketer” named Michael Gruen saw Kyle on Twitter and - with encouragement from conservative editor and columnist Ben Shapiro - reached out to him last month, knowing that he’d need support to amplify his voice.
Other Parkland students have the backing of big names and PR agencies. Kyle has @KyleKashuv, and Michael, and his parents (who paid for the D.C. trip).
“As a conservative myself –– and, more importantly, as a human –– I saw somebody who actually (cared),” Gruen said. “I saw a kid who was not being recognized, for whatever reason, and I want to help anyone who cares.”
In the days before his D.C. trip, Kyle tweeted at various members of Congress, and some took notice. He tweeted at Chelsea Clinton, who engaged him. He tweeted the White House press shop. On Monday he got verified on Twitter, that little blue check mark of virtual adulthood. On Tuesday the first lady’s director of communications tweeted at him.
And on Wednesday he was in Washington, cool as a cucumber, intense but not excitable. He looks his age –– lanky, with sideburns coming in –– but he talks like he’s aiming for valedictorian. Which he is. He’s ranked No. 4 in the class of 2019, he says.
And he’s a conservative. Which is a big deal for some people - especially adults who build careers out of carving up the world into right and left. Kyle’s first appointment was lunch with a Breitbart writer. Fox News has already brought him on multiple times, perhaps because he’s a Parkland student who doesn’t believe gun control is the answer.
He doesn’t consider himself an expert, and he’s uncomfortable with people calling him a “survivor.” He wasn’t in the freshmen building that the gunman attacked. He’s never fired a gun. But he’s fiercely fixated on the middle ground, that mythical place where change is incremental enough to assuage conservatives and profound enough to please progressives.
“Here’s the thing, OK?” he says, after refilling his Coke. “The initial movement, in its purest form, was amazing. It got corrupted because now it’s represented as anti-gun and anti-NRA. ‘Boycott this, boycott that.’ It’s detracting from the actual discussions.”
He suggests achievable goals: increasing security at schools and deepening background checks (particularly for mental health). He’s also developing an app called ReachOut, a way for students who are struggling emotionally to connect and communicate with others in school.
Gruen helped Kyle turn his outreach into actual appointments on the Hill. And suddenly Kyle had a D.C. itinerary that any lobbyist would dream of, packed into 24 hours: five senators, the Speaker of the House, the counselor to the president, and then a special surprise at the White House.
After finishing his Coke, Kyle took an Uber to Capitol Hill. In black slacks, a gray button-down, and short socks that left his ankles bare, Kyle sat on a couch opposite Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., one of the most vocal critics of the gun lobby. Boy and man searched for middle ground, and found it with a shared desire to stop violent tendencies from becoming violent actions.
“We spent a long time talking about the fact that, in politics, you have to reach out across the aisle at the same time you’re getting ready for the next election,” said Murphy, after the meeting. “I think he’s very concerned that this issue is going to become political and that there’s not going to be sincerity from both sides.”
Kyle and Gruen then popped down four floors to the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Kyle tweeted photos of the “productive” meeting.
“Kyle you are dealing with snakes today,” responded a #MAGA partisan from Georgia, but that’s the kind of noise that Kyle doesn’t hear.
Then it was off to a coffee shop near the White House, where Kyle met with CNN’s Jim Acosta in the 7 o’clock hour. He tweeted photos of the meeting - calling it “an honor and a privilege” - and then headed to the White House for a nighttime tour.
Before he went to bed, Kyle tweeted criticism of students who, earlier that day, sat on the floor of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office and chanted for gun reform.
“Stop this counterproductive shouting and do real advocacy work,” Kyle wrote.
The next morning, bright and early, Kyle headed back to the Hill. In the 8 o’clock hour he chatted with Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., next to a crackling fire. Next he scooted over to the D.C. headquarters of Fox News, where he met Kellyanne Conway in the lobby around quarter to 10.
“Two things distinguish him,” Conway said after. “One is he wants to have a more holistic and fair approach to the entire conversation, and two is his app.”
“Seeing that people in Washington are real people has been unbelievable,” Kyle tweeted after the meeting. Conway then called President Donald Trump and told him about Kyle, planting a seed for later in the day.
By 10:40 a.m. Kyle was armchair to armchair with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, about his Stop School Violence Act.
“You’re doing the Lord’s work in raising these issues,” Hatch told him.
By 11:30 a.m. Kyle was showing Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., design mockups of the ReachOut app. Then Kyle and Gruen race-walked two floors up to the office of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
After Cruz, the pair hustled to the street and caught a cab for the White House. There, at 2 p.m., Melania Trump greeted Kyle and sat with him in the Green Room for about half an hour, talking about mental health and the well-being of students.
Then the first lady said she would walk Kyle out but took him through the Colonnade and up to the Oval Office. A few minutes later, President Trump walked in, fresh from his meeting with video-game executives.
“Where’s Kyle?” the president said.
“How are you, Mr. President?” Kyle said.
They shook hands, started trading pleasantries and took a seat. Trump asked about his classmates. Kyle talked about his app idea. It was over in five minutes.
On the way out of the West Wing, Kyle ran into Rubio, who gave him a hug.
Over the course of his trip, the people he encountered tweeted about him.
Jim Acosta: “Kyle, you are clearly making a difference!”
The Speaker of the House: “I’m grateful to him for sharing his story with me.”
Sen. Murphy: “You bring such power and grace to this discussion about how to best protect our schools, Kyle.”
The first lady: “His message of unity inspires us all!”
Kyle, on a high from meeting the president, summed up his trip in a tweet, of course: “WE CAN CREATE CHANGE, TOGETHER. BIPARTISANSHIP IS REAL.”
The cherry on top? The due date for his English essays was pushed to April.