Bright and early last Thursday morning I headed to the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center for the weekly coffee with Sen. John Cornyn, which I RSVP-ed for in advance (and I don’t know if they spend any time researching attendees, but I suspect they do).
It was gorgeous DC day, and this sort of picture-perfect postcard view of the Capitol is enough to give even the most jaded Texas gal a little hope.
I joined about 50 other fellow Texans at the coffee, which was held in a large meeting room in the visitors center. I had a few minimum expectations about this event, and I had prepared for any opportunity to speak to or ask questions of the senior senator from Texas. I was ready to talk to him about the family separation policy, gun safety reform, and health care. I was also aware that I was in a room full of people who likely had diverse views on all these issues.
I got my coffee and filled out my photo information form. And then waited for something to happen.
At about 9:50 a staffer (not intern–though they were mostly young white male interns) came in and made a beeline to an older gentleman wearing a Make America Great Again hat. She spent a fair bit of time talking to him and his (I assume) wife.
A few other staffers came in and each spoke with a few folks. In the meantime, they started to line us up to take our photos with the senator. Finally Sen. Cornyn came in and went straight to the flags for photos. We were hustled through very quickly, maybe 15 seconds each, and since no one else was chatting him up I didn’t either. That was a crucial mistake.
More than 50 constituents came to the coffee, and our senator didn’t take any time to speak with us, except for banalities while shaking hands and taking a picture. He whizzed in, took photos for 10 minutes, and then disappeared. There was no welcome from him or from his staff. There was no acknowledgement that most people in the room had traveled from Texas to be there. And there was absolutely no opportunity to engage with our senator about any of the critical policy issues.
I have been to D.C. for enough meetings with members of Congress over the years to have had a certain set of expectations about what happens when 50 constituents are in the room. I learned my lesson and I’m passing it on to you: go to the coffee, get the photo, but also make the appointment and go to the office.
As interns started coming into the room to give people information about their tours, I took my last opportunity to connect with staff. I hand-delivered 300 postcards constituents had signed over the last couple of months, asking Sen. Cornyn to pass basic gun safety reforms that the vast majority of Texans and Americans support. If you wrote a postcard to Sen. Cornyn at the March for Our Lives or the Town Hall for Our Lives, they were delivered, and I hope you get a response. Please share it if you do!
My next meeting on the hill couldn’t have been more different. I had reached out to Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s D.C. office the week before my trip and asked if I could stop by and meet some of the staffers so I could put names to faces. I expected to spend about 15-30 minutes at the office at most, but was treated to the opportunity to spend some time with each member of the congressman’s policy team. All my preparation paid off!
In the time I spent with the congressman’s staff, we discussed family separation and what’s happening here in Austin, as well as upcoming Congressional trips to the border; gun violence prevention actions and the hearing on red flag laws and safe gun storage at the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence committee on June 25; work being done to address out-of-control drug prices; the immigration bills that will hit the House floor this week (they are both bad, so call your reps!); the new poll on support for Medicaid expansion in Texas. We probably touched on a few other things I’ve forgotten.
As I was about to leave, Rep. Doggett appeared, and he generously gave me a few minutes. We talked about several of the items on the list above, but most specifically about the actions Democratic members of Congress are taking to address family separation. Something is happening out there, and people are deeply moved by the horror we’re seeing play out at the border. I’m thankful for the members who are putting this issue front and center, and I hope it will drive some change in Congress. But when we see Texas members of Congress hailing the policy as a positive development while also lying that it’s happening because of a law passed by Democrats it’s hard to imagine any sort of solution. Also, do they not hear themselves contradicting themselves in that lie?
With just about an hour left in my schedule, I quickly headed to the offices of Rep. Flores, Rep. Smith, and Rep. McCaul to drop off more postcards asking for stronger gun safety measures, as well as some letters from voters. I have a plan to visit Sen. Cruz’s office next time I’m in D.C.
I caught a member of Rep. McCaul’s staff in the middle of lunch, but I made him listen to me for several minutes as I shared my concerns on the policy of family separation, the criminalization of asylum-seekers, and the need to change this inhumane response to people fleeing violence. He listened, was reasonably friendly, and promised to put my concerns in the database. I’ll let you know if I get a response.
Here’s my key takeaway from this trip: really bad shit is happening in our government every single day and the executive branch agencies are being gutted and destroyed by political appointees. We can campaign our butts off trying to get new people elected in November, but right now most of our representatives are co-signing everything the president wants. Our representatives have traded away a lot of their decency for tax cuts. Each day that we don’t call or take action and engage the people who represent us right now, we are tacitly telling them that we’re OK with what they’re doing and how they are representing us.
We. Are. Not. Don’t let them forget it.