When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse decided to vote in favor of several key Donald Trump nominations, including Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA and General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, I’m sure he did not expect to have to answer to hundreds of his angry constituents two days in a row. On Saturday, at the Warwick Public Library, Whitehouse got a preview of Sunday’s turnout when 150 people attended an event that usually draws two dozen. At the dinner Whitehouse hosted Sunday evening in Providence, over 700 people turned up to an event that usually draws 100.
Many of those attending marched to Nathan Bishop Middle School on the East Side from the State House rally held to oppose Trump’s unconstitutional executive order banning Muslims from entering the United States. When they arrived, those in the march listened to the music of the Extraordinary Rendition Band and made statements in opposition to the Trump agenda.
When the doors opened to the Whitehouse event crowds instantly filled the 500 seats in the school auditorium, leaving 200 more outside. As Whitehouse took questions, chants of “Take it Outside!” could be heard through the walls. Eventually Whitehouse decided to take 30 minutes of questions inside and then go outside to address the crowd there. In all, Whitehouse spent 50 minutes inside and 80 minutes outside answering questions from the crowd. Here’s an overview from Resist Hate RI:
In the first video Whitehouse explains how unusual it is for him to have to accommodate so many people at one of his pasta dinners. He also had to explain why impeachment is not in the near future when Republicans control the House.
Whitehouse explains his opposition to the route selected for the new high-speed rail that will be coming through Rhode Island and explains why we need a Supreme Court willing to take on Republican gerrymandering.
A constituent asks Whitehouse to resist in a different way, by not playing the usual political games. Most in the crowd wanted Whitehouse to vote no on all of Trump’s nominees, especially on people like Mike Pompeo as CIA director and General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense. Whitehouse countered that it would not have made a difference in the final outcome.
Whitehouse said that he is still getting over the shock of Trump’s win. He thinks the first move of the Democrat minority in the Senate will be to get a bill on the floor to repeal the Muslim Ban.
People want an investigation into Trump, but all the committees are controlled by Republicans, so no investigation with teeth can happen unless a Republican such as Lindsay Graham convenes one.
RI Future contributor Mark Binder explained the logic of voting against all of Trump’s nominees. Whitehouse saw the people he voted ‘yes’ on as a wall around Trump that might prevent his worst action. Whitehouse said, “I will conceded right off the bat that I may have been wrong” in voting for these nominees. Nominees like of Pompeo, who supports torture, and Mattis, who stood by and posed for pictures as Trump signed his executive orders against Muslims.
Hilmy Bakri, president of the board of the Islamic School of Rhode ISland introduced Whitehouse. This was done out of order because Whitehouse wanted to address the crowd, but usually at these dinners Whitehouse is introduced by a community member.
Whitehouse recognizes that Trump’s rhetoric is “tresspassing into very dangerous territory” and evokes the fascism of the Nazis.
Things really heated up when a reluctant Trump supporter took to the microphone to say that Trump’s administration is really not that different from the last one. People did not appreciate the comparison. When a woman rose in anger and said that she was an immigrant, the Trump supporter said, “Oh, I’m trying to get you people to understand that this is an ongoing problem.”
The next question was about the Supreme Court. The people want Trump and the Democrats to hold fast against any Supreme Court nomination Trump advances. Whitehouse seems to think they can only keep out the worst ones.
A constituent rose to demand an investigation into Trump’s entire cabinet. Meanwhile, the people outside are chanting again.
A constituent took Whitehouse to task because “You claim to be a climate champion but you have said nothing about the LNG thing they’re trying to do in Providence. You’ve said nothing about the plant they’re trying to build in Burrillville… I’m really frustrated…”
“I appreciate that,” said Whitehouse, “I appreciate that.”
But the main point of the constituent’s statement to Whitehouse was about reproductive rights. “Just wanting to have rights to my own body and no man, no Senator, no President has the right to tell me I can’t!”
As people start to move outside, a man asks about getting his parents out of Syria. He also asked about the hiring freeze.
The move outside. The large cop kept pushing me from behind, into the people in front of me. I had to tell him not to push. Chants filled the air of “Just say ‘No!'” and “Vote ‘No!'”
Whitehouse repeated some of the stuff he had said inside to the crowd outside. In response to cries for “Single Payer!” Whitehouse noted that he had put in a bill for a “public option.”
Whitehouse explains his position on torture, which he is against, his vote for Pompeo not withstanding.
Whitehouse said that we can help him by joining national political action groups that can get Democrats elected in other states in the mid terms.
Whitehouse explains his Pompeo and Mattis votes again. He also says he doesn’t know what can be done about Trump neo-Nazi advisor Steve Bannon.
Whitehouse says he will be bringing a bill to the floor repealing the Muslim ban executive order.
The most exciting thing to happen outside was when Whitehouse was handed a list of Trump nominees and asked which ones he will vote against. “For a little bit, Whitehouse had the crowd, saying, “Secretary of Education, no. Secretary of State, no. US Attorney General, no. EPA director, really big no. Secretary of Treasury, no. Secretary of Labor, no. Secretary of Commerce, I need to talk to him about NOA and what he’s going to do, there are big oceans issued involved…”
“Just say no!” said someone in the crowd. The crowd joined him.
“I hear you,” said Whitehouse, “Department of Energy, no. Health and Human Services, no. Interior, no. OMB, no. Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon? World Wide Wrestling fame. I don’t think so.”
Laughter from the audience.
“So I think those are the key ones,” said Whitehouse, “and that’s where I am on those and we’ll review others as we go.”
Whitehouse supports infrastructure investment, despite its climate impacts.
“What is the danger if Democrats obstructed en masse in the Senate,” asks a constituent.
There is nothing Whitehouse can do about the National Security Council. “There is so much to worry about,” said Whitehouse.
“We need you to be a leader,” chanted the crowd.
Republicans steal votes by throwing people off the voter roles. Also, the hiring freeze.
“What are you going to do to protect our public schools?”
Steve Bannon (and Pompeo and Flynn) have said terrible things about Muslims. Whitehouse asked the crowd to show the Muslims in Rhode Island some love.
Whitehouse asked the crowd to show appreciation for the press.
Whitehouse has not decided between Perez or Ellison to head the DNC. “I’m holding on that,” said Whitehouse, while admitting both are good candidates. Whitehouse is opposed to further tax cuts for the one percent.
Lift the contribution cap on social security, says Whitehouse. He opposes the voucherization of Medicare.
“Will you remove your support for [RI] Speaker [of the House Nicholas] Mattiello for the good of all Rhode Island citizens?” asks a constituent.
“No,” said Whitehouse, instantly.
“He’s the worst. Do you know how awful he is? If you withdraw your support it would add to all our efforts to get rid of him.”
“I appreciate that,” said Whitehouse, “I’ll take it under consideration.”
Whitehouse is asked to come back to Rhode Island and speak to communities of color, where people are feeling “very vulnerable.