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Democratic Lawmakers Feel Boost from Women’s March

Minority party hopes movement will help Congress rein in Trump

Protesters march down Independence Avenue in Washington, holding signs during the women’s march on Saturday, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Protesters march down Independence Avenue in Washington, holding signs during the women’s march on Saturday, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Capitol Dome was more than just a symbolic backdrop for Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington. It was the intended target of hundreds of thousands of voices of frustration with President Donald Trump. 

For all of the anti-Trump placards — both crude and shrewd — many marchers descended on the nation’s capital to send a message to the branch of government that, they hope, will be a check on the new president.

As the minority party in both houses of Congress, there’s only so much power Democrats can wield. And yet, Democratic members participating in the march saw it as a grass-roots movement that they said will strengthen their efforts to resist Trump — and help bring Republican lawmakers into that fight.

“This is going to give us — the men and women, the Democrats of Congress — real energy to move forward,” Florida Rep. Lois Frankel said at a packed breakfast hosted by female members of the state’s congressional delegation. 

It’s an “enormous” help, said Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, who was marching with her daughters. She sported the pink scarf female Democratic members donned for the inauguration and the march. 

“People are really getting engaged, and people whom you’d never imagine would come to a march like this,” she said.

For New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, it was a nonpartisan march about issues. That wasn’t exactly true — plenty of the march’s sponsors had ties to the Democratic Party. But the energy Booker saw around topics like health care gave him hope that Republicans will see the danger in turning Trump’s campaign rhetoric into law. 

“When you have people like Rand Paul or other sort of [Republican] colleagues who are starting to say, ‘Wait a minute, don’t repeal without replacing,’ I think this only gives them fuel within their own party,” Booker said, as he was mobbed for selfies outside the Capitol. 

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Sending a message

In fact, it wasn’t just Democrats in crocheted “pussyhats” who crowded Washington’s avenues.

Jennifer Krock, 54, is a steelworker from Fort Wayne, Indiana. She’s also a Republican, and wore her pink United Steelworkers hat with pride at the march. 

She rode a bus with Hoosier and Buckeye steelworkers to demand equal treatment of women — specifically, equal pay. 

Krock didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton or Trump, but she hopes her trip to Washington sends a message to Congress.

“To me, it shows that everybody, these women, are going to stick together,” she said.

While its form isn’t clear yet, an attempt at a sustained movement was taking shape this weekend. “This is not just a today thing,” Frankel said.  

Speakers on stage at the march repeated the phone number for the U.S. House, asking marchers to call their representatives. They asked the attendees to repeat the 10-digit number several times, and hours later, some young marchers had it memorized. 

Already, some marchers were channeling their protests into institutional politics. 

Among the “Viva la Vulva” and “Pussy Grabs Back” signs, Kristin Hodges’ neon-yellow sign stood out.

“2018 Is Change,” it read.

“It’s the most optimistic message I could think of that’s short,” said Hodges, 54, of Washington, D.C.

New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is responsible for helping realize that change. Democrats need to gain 24 seats in the House to wrest control from Republicans — a tall order, but perhaps less daunting than the odds in the Senate, where 10 Democrats are defending seats in states won by Trump last November.

Ever optimistic, Luján — who was on the Capitol Balcony shooting footage of the march to send to his mother — said he was inspired by how Saturday’s event came together. 

“What’s incredible about this march is it was created by one woman who posted, ‘Let’s march.’ And look at how many people have responded,” he said. “It’s the thrust of all of that energy that will make a difference come the midterms.”

Madeleine Henderson, 72, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, felt the same urgency. “I certainly hope it makes Congress understand that we’re their constituency, and if we care enough to be here, we certainly care enough to vote,” she said.

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Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal speaks at the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. (Bridget Bowman/CQ Roll Call)

An inconvenient truth

And yet, many of the women who turned out Saturday were still puzzling over the inconvenient truth that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump last year.

The overwhelming turnout for Saturday’s march and white women’s support for Trump on Nov. 8 may not be incongruous forever, Pingree said. While Clinton won Pingree’s 1st District in Maine, Trump won the state’s 2nd District, in part, by appealing to white working-class voters.

Pingree’s not sure they’ll stick with him.

“What happens when those services get shut down or he has an anti-choice Supreme Court nominee?” she asked.

Some of the people at the march may have voted for Trump or not voted at all, Pingree said. “But they’re here to say, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t what I expected,’” she added.

Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, one of the longest-serving members of the House, saw the march as the first act of a reactionary movement to Trump’s ascendancy. Among the thousands of people from the Wolverine State he encountered on Saturday, he said, “I met 100 people from Marshall, Michigan. I mean, the Republican Party in Michigan, I think, started there.”

Inside the Capitol on Saturday afternoon, Tennessee GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn — long one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress — was just steps from the march. She downplayed the idea that the crowds would embolden her Democratic colleagues. 

“No, I think this is the kind of thing that we see take place periodically,” she said of the hundreds of thousands of people assembling on the National Mall.

Democratic lawmakers participating in the march had a different view, underscoring their hopes of working with GOP women, where they can, to stand up to Trump.

“We’ve got 21 women in the United States Senate — more women than we’ve ever had before and more diversity than we’ve ever had before,” said Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who was sworn in earlier this month as the first-ever Latina senator.

“We are a force,” she said of the Democratic and Republican women in the Senate.

As the co-chairwoman of the bipartisan Congressional Women’s Caucus in the House, Frankel is also optimistic about working with her female Republican colleagues — up to a point. She recalled a day when, aged 15, she found a friend “bleeding to death” from a back-alley abortion. 

“We’ll resist like hell if they try to take us back,” she said.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. 

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