Senior Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sought to stave off town-hall protests from their own party, asking Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to reach out and urge activists to redirect their anger at Republicans instead of at moderate Democratic lawmakers.
The request came in a weekly meeting of top Democratic senators, according to a senator in attendance, ahead of a congressional recess next week when lawmakers in both parties are expected to face large crowds stirred in recent weeks by President Trump’s early executive actions and ongoing Republican attempts to revamp the Affordable Care Act.
Over the past two weeks, crowds — and conflict-hungry media crews — have swarmed town halls and protested at congressional offices. Republicans have gotten the brunt of it, with several members escorted by police through lines of shouting protesters, and some caught scrapping or rescheduling public events or leaving out back doors to dodge angry activists.
But protesters have also gathered in blue states, marching to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s home in Brooklyn to demand the obstruction of Trump nominees, and showing up at the offices of safe-seat Democrats to demand that they filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Such stories spurred Democrats to ask Sanders for help, according to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who attended the meeting on Tuesday.
“They basically explained to Bernie, it looks like you could be the person that could calm down and make sure their energy and all this enthusiasm is directed in all the right proper channels,” Manchin said. “Bernie has a voice, and if [protesters] want to be active, then direct them to where the problem may be or where they anticipate a problem.”
The intraparty drama puts top party leaders like Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a tricky political position. He can either fully embrace the far left and its rejuvenated activism — and risk alienating moderate lawmakers and voters — or push back too hard against the new activity and anger the party’s base of support.
The request to Sanders came during a meeting with Schumer and a leadership team that stretches the ideological spectrum of his caucus. In addition to Sanders, a self-described socialist, and moderate Manchin, the group included Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), among others.