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Climate protesters disrupted the congressional softball game. Lawmakers had a dance party

Play eventually resumed at the charity event, which raises money for breast cancer awareness

Capitol Police officers surround a small cluster of climate protesters at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game on Wednesday night.
Capitol Police officers surround a small cluster of climate protesters at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game on Wednesday night. (Ryan Tarinelli/CQ Roll Call)

Climate activists took over the field at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game on Wednesday night, stopping play for more than 10 minutes and setting off a rival dance party.

Around a dozen protesters entered the outfield during the first inning of the charity event. Wearing t-shirts with the message “End Fossil Fuels,” they linked arms and stood in a circle. 

“Looks like we’re going to have a little stoppage in play to deal with a protest,” said one of the game’s announcers, NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake.

“And this is a charity event to raise money … for breast cancer prevention,” Dana Bash of CNN reminded the crowd.

It was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s turn to bat, but she was left standing in the box, waiting for police to clear the protest. The annual game pits female lawmakers against members of the media to benefit the Young Survival Coalition, and it’s deeply personal for the Florida Democrat. She started the fundraiser back in 2009, soon after disclosing her own struggle with breast cancer.

As the activists chanted, a few more waved a “Climate Defiance” banner in the stands. Annoyed comments and awkward laughter could be heard among the lawmakers, staffers and journalists who had gathered at Watkins Recreation Center on Capitol Hill to watch the game. 

Congressional leaders found ways to pass the time. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries stood on the sidelines chatting with some of the softball players from his caucus, including Reps. Sara Jacobs of California and Sharice Davids of Kansas. 

Commentary from the trio of game announcers was dry but pointed. “I do note that the men’s baseball game was allowed to go forward,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said into the mic, referring to the annual Congressional Baseball Game held at Nationals Park. The Minnesota Democrat is another breast cancer survivor. 

Bash picked up the thread. “It’s interesting that the women’s game for charity is being interrupted in a very prolonged way but the men’s was not. Huh, what do you think that means, Garrett?”

“I’m not sure I’m the person most qualified to answer that question. But I will say, having covered Congress for some time now, these delays, sometimes on totally unrelated policy issues, can often be very frustrating,” he replied.

Activists did show up at last year’s baseball game to demand action on legislation to fight climate change, but they didn’t breach the field or cause delays.

If the protesters Wednesday night were calling for any specific legislation, it wasn’t immediately clear. The roster for the lawmakers’ team featured both Democrats and Republicans, including the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. 

California Democratic Rep. Nanette Barragán, who was listed as injured for the game, approached the protesters to talk. She said she told them she supported their advocacy to end fossil fuels but encouraged them to leave the field, she later said.

“I shared my sister’s story of fighting breast cancer and why the goal of the night was personally important to me,” she said in a statement.

Capitol Police Chief Chief J. Thomas Manger was on the sidelines and seen conversing with other officers and staff about what to do.

“We contained the demonstrators, told them to leave or face arrest by MPD, and after several minutes they left,” according to a statement Thursday from Capitol Police.

As the minutes ticked by, some members of Congress tried to lighten the mood. Reps. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., and Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., took a lap around the field, offering high fives.

Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” blared over the loudspeakers, and players started to dance. 

“It does seem like a dance party has broken out in the infield,” announced Haake.

After Capitol Police finally led off the activists, the soundtrack turned to “Cupid Shuffle,” the dance craze that became popular in 2007. Cammack, Bice, Jacobs and other softball players showed off their moves. It wasn’t the first time that members of Congress danced and had fun at the softball game, but it was the first time they did so as noisy protesters were escorted from the field.

When the game continued, the focus returned to pitching, hitting and the charity cause. The press corps teams, known as the Bad News Babes, defeated the members’ team, 15-9.

Much of the game was an offensive showcase by the Bad News Babes, with one inning of press players hitting ground rule doubles. In the later innings, their opponents began a rally, with a few solid hits and walks and strong defensive play by Capito at third base. The lawmakers, who were batting last, scored a number of runs in the final minutes but ultimately came up short.

Since its founding, the softball game has raised more than $3.7 million for the Young Survival Coalition, a nonprofit that supports young women with breast cancer. This year the annual total was a record $588,000 and counting, Klobuchar announced. “That’s why the game must go on,” she said.

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