A previous version of this story incorrectly reported on the make-up of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ staff. The story has been updated to remove the error.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers called on colleague Dave Reichert this week to address Republican lawmakers on safety amid national protests prompted by the presidency of Donald Trump.
A spokeswoman for the congresswoman confirmed a report from national newsmagazine Politico that Reichert, a former King County sheriff, talked to members of the House Republican Conference in a closed-door meeting Tuesday at McMorris Rodgers’ request.
“This has been on the minds, I think, of members of Congress, some of these protests devolving into violence,” said Molly Drenkard, a spokeswoman for McMorris Rodgers.
Last month, someone wrote “nazi scum” and “refugees welcome” with marker on the windows of the congresswoman’s office in downtown Spokane, seemingly in response to Trump’s executive orders on immigration.
Those concerns are not what prompted staff at her Spokane office to limit the number of people who could enter at a time earlier this month, Drenkard said. The move left members of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, a group that gathered to deliver postcards to the office Feb. 1, scratching their heads.
“It was a stark contrast to our experience the past couple of years,” said Liz Moore, executive director of the group.
Drenkard said the conversation in Washington, D.C., taking place during the caucus’ usual weekly meeting where lawmakers discuss strategy and “news of the day” on Capitol Hill, was in response to some of the violent scenes from demonstrations in Washington, D.C., during Trump’s inauguration and at the University of California at Berkeley earlier this month. Drenkard said there were concerns about protests turning into “vandalism, harassment and intimidation” on the national level.
“The congresswoman wants to hear from everyone,” Drenkard said. “Where freedom of speech is answered with more speech, and not with violence.”
The decision to limit the number of people in the Spokane office was made after consultation with the fire marshal, who issued a written ruling that only two members of the public could safely occupy the office on the sixth floor of the Peyton Building at a time, Drenkard said. She also said that arrangement allowed concerned citizens to meet with staff members individually, which promoted a better dialogue.
“It made sense to us, to bring everyone in, individually, and hear exactly what they were concerned about,” Drenkard said.
The fire marshal’s note has been posted on the front window of the congresswoman’s office in Spokane, which has safety glass to prevent shattering and entry after the window is broken. Pieces of paper had been taped up on the windows as of this week, along with a posted message urging the public to respect constituents’ privacy.
Shar Lichty, an organizer for the action league who helped coordinate the event Feb. 1, said that many visitors left when they realized there’d be a line to get into the office.
The event began at noon, and some people didn’t get into the congressional office until 3 p.m., Lichty said.
Drenkard issued a statement after the event, calling the gathering a protest “designed to deliberately keep her office from serving the community.”
Moore, who did not attend the Feb. 1 event, said the statement mischaracterized why citizens showed up at the congressional office.
“The idea that talking to constituents and delivering postcards for people who can’t be there physically is somehow disrupting her office and taking staff away from stuff that’s more important is disappointing and inappropriate,” Moore said.
Lichty acknowledged that, with the increased participation in political events like the one sponsored by her group, there is “less certainty” about whether demonstrations will unfold according to the nonviolent principles the league upholds and recites before every event. But she said the appearance the office has been put on guard because more people want to engage their representatives is troubling.
“I don’t think it’s a reasonable fear to have, that with more people coming to speak, there’s an increase of danger for the representative,” Lichty said.
Drenkard said there is an increasing movement of “leftist activist groups” that are promoting physical force and harassment, part of the reason why the congresswoman asked Reichert to address other members of the party. She said McMorris Rodgers is committed to maintaining a dialogue with constituents on both sides of the aisle, but wants the conversation to remain civil.
“The congresswoman wants to hear from everybody, because she believes that makes her a better representative,” Drenkard said. “She wants to represent everyone in Eastern Washington. It is a shame that people feel they can respond to policy discussions, and decisions, with physical acts of vandalism.”