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Politics

Kansas Members Of Congress Say They Won’t Be ‘Bullied’ By Activist Protesters

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Jim McLean
/
Kansas News Service
Protesters gather in Overland Park outside the office of Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

Members of the Kansas congressional delegation are under fire — like many of their colleagues across the country — for ducking town-hall meetings with their constituents.

At the Kansas GOP convention earlier this month, two of them explained their reaction to raucousness at their offices.

At ease in front of the friendly audience, Kansas 3rd District Congressman Kevin Yoder was perhaps more candid than usual. He said the groups demanding town-hall meetings and staging protests at congressional offices are attempting to “stop the will of the American people” by scaring their elected representatives.

“And I’m here to tell you, we will not be bullied,” Yoder said. “We are ready to take the fight to Washington, D.C. We will not let these folks bully us.”

Asked later about his criticism of the demonstrators, Yoder softened a bit.

“I’ve often said I represent everyone no matter what political party they’re in, whether they are a Democrat, independent or a Republican,” he said. “But at the same time, to the extent that people want to try to intimidate members of Congress from doing what they said they were going to do in their campaigns and carrying out their promises, we can’t be bullied.”

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Credit Jim McLean / Kansas News Service
Posters label Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Kevin Yoder as “missing.”

Speaking to the same breakfast audience at the state GOP convention, Sen. Pat Roberts said his staff had to call the police when a crowd of more than 200 showed up at his Overland Park office for a protest staged by the activist group Indivisible KC. He referred to the group as “invisible” because of their propensity to appear out of nowhere.

Repeating the unsubstantiated claim that paid protestors are staging the events, Roberts said their goal is to “delegitimize Donald Trump as president.”

“This is intimidation,” Roberts said. “This is a fight, folks.”

Cheryl Schoenberg, a small-business owner from Leawood who regularly attends Indivisible KC’s Tuesday “resist Trump” rallies, scoffed at the suggestion that she and others were attempting to intimidate Roberts and his staff.

“Senator Roberts has no idea what he’s talking about because he’s never spoken to any of us,” Schoenberg said as she left Roberts’ office with a small group of protestors after meeting with his staff.

“We come in here, we’re nice, we’re polite,” she continued. “We’re not paid people. And most everybody sitting in that room every week is a moderate. We just want to see moderate movement forward for the nation, not see far left or far right movement.”

Outside, the atmosphere was more spirited. About 100 people chanted and carried signs protesting the planned repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the rollback of environmental regulations, among other things.

Paffi Flood, a stay-at-home mom from Leawood, turned out to join those calling for an independent, public investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.

“We want something transparent, we want it bipartisan,” Flood said. “When it is a select committee, that means the public gets to know what is actually found in the investigation.”

Like many of the demonstrators, Flood and Schoenberg are newcomers to political activism.

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Credit Jim McLean / Kansas News Service
Cheryl Schoenberg, a small-business owner from Leawood, regularly attends Indivisible KC’s Tuesday “resist Trump” rallies. She says she is “a moderate Republican who is just appalled at what’s going on in this nation.”

“As a child I went one time with my mother on a protest when they were cutting down an old-growth tree in my hometown. Other than that, I’ve never been to a protest,” Schoenberg said, adding that prior to joining Indivisible she had never called a member of Congress.

“I am a moderate Republican who is just appalled at what’s going on in this nation,” she said.

Yoder says people’s natural resistance to change is part of what is fueling the anti-Trump movement, which he said is similar to but not the same as the Tea Party movement triggered by President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

“I think the difference in this case is that many of these folks have tried to delegitimize the president from the very day he was sworn into office,” Yoder said. “We should all be rooting for the president to be successful, and I don’t know that’s what everyone is doing.”

Organizers plan to continue their protests for at least the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. Whether the anti-Trump movement can achieve the staying power of the Tea Party or rival its influence in Congress is one of those wait-and-see questions.

Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.