It’s not even noon, and I’ve already answered dozens of phone calls from angry constituents. A single mother demanded answers as to where her family could turn for health care services when Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act. An older gentleman had to take a breath as he used some choice words to describe House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposals that could cut Medicare benefits. The resentment and anger are palpable. Seconds after I hang up, the phone rings again. And again. And again.
As a communications director for Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., answering constituent calls is not usually in my job description; in most offices on Capitol Hill, staff assistants and interns pick up. But with phones ringing off the hook since Donald Trump became the 45th president, the policy experts and I have been pitching in — and all of us have been on the receiving end of a nonstop barrage of indignation and frustration from constituents, many of whom who have never been in touch before.
So I have something to say to the hordes of furious callers who continue to bombard our office on a daily basis: Thank you.
Democratic and Republican congressional offices have been inundated with calls, letters, tweets, posts and visits from impassioned people upset and outraged by the president’s actions, Cabinet nominations and executive orders. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s office reported an average of 1.5 million daily calls to the Senate in the first week of February alone. Phone lines are so gridlocked that lawmakers are nervously taking to social media to apologize that constituents can’t get through and reassure them that we hear them on Capitol Hill.
Before Trump’s inauguration, our Washington office received anywhere from 120 to 200 calls in a given week. Those numbers have more than doubled this year. With some callers, ire drips from their every word, especially in relation to Republican efforts to dismantle Obamacare. With others, it’s easy to recognize the regret and disappointment in their voices, as if they’re angry with themselves for somehow allowing such a man to assume the most powerful office in the world. We rarely receive phone calls backing Trump; our district has been a Democratic stronghold for generations.
Despite claims by administration officials that opposition efforts are being led by paid operatives, these calls do not sound scripted or prompted by professional activists. We hear from people who live in our district, and from residents of elsewhere in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest, some who are contacting us for the first time. (We don’t put calls from people outside the district into our constituent database, but otherwise, we handle all the calls the same way.) Their authenticity is impossible to mistake. Their sentiments come from a genuine place of sincerity and alarm. And at the end of each week, when we convey their fears and frustrations to our boss, we discuss what we can do as public servants to address their concerns and change the atmosphere of uncertainty that has been cultivated by this administration and its policies.
Urgent and emotionally charged calls come with the territory when you work in Congress, but some conversations follow me home from the Rayburn House Office Building. One woman broke down describing how she’s afraid to call the police in an emergency out of fear she’ll be deported. A college student asked how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator could question the link between human activity and climate change.