The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats rally outside Supreme Court with protesters who want them to do more

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (left), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Rep. Brenda Lawrence and other Democratic members of Congress, hold small candles aloft in front of the Supreme Court in Washington during a news conference on Jan. 30 about President Trump’s recent executive orders. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

It was supposed to be the congressional Democrats’ merger with the protest movements that had sprung up to pressure them, a rally at the Supreme Court against President Trump’s executive orders on refugees and immigration. But at times, the event looked like an awkward mass marriage, marred by bad communication.

After the sun set on Monday and Democrats made their way from the Capitol, a crowd of at least 1,000 protesters was waiting on the narrow path between the court and its first set of stairs. The crowd, bent around a path that had been left open for Democrats, launched into chants of “Hands too small, can’t build a wall” and “Build a fence around Mike Pence.” Some shouted, “Walk the walk!” — a command to the Democrats themselves.

While the crowd waited, two protesters took over the lectern to give short speeches; microphones meant for the senators stayed off. When the Democrats arrived, several held small electric candles, but found microphones that couldn’t carry their voices to the crowd. After a round of “This Land is Our Land,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke, with much of the crowd unable to hear.

“What the president did is not constitutional,” said Pelosi.

“You’re not doing anything if you don’t stop Sessions!” yelled one protester.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) waved off a megaphone, and pledged to win the fight to end the executive order. Like the rest of the assembled Democrats, he talked about the problems with the orders, but did not specifically say how it could be undone — though he and other Democrats hope that Republicans critical of the orders will sign on to Democratic bills.

“This order is against what we believe in,” said Schumer. “It will make us unsafe, because then nations of the world will no longer look up to us.”

It appeared that most of the Democrats who had been voting Monday night made it to the rally. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is seen as the party’s most at-risk incumbent in the 2018 midterms, had not commented on the executive orders, but popped up in the crowd. As protesters chanted, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Nydia Valasquez (D-N.Y.) recounted their work to get refugees out of detention at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“We must overcome this little man in the White House who is disgracing our history,” Nadler said.

As the crowd struggled to hear, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) led a chant for people to join: “No ban, no wall!”

“We are here tonight to make sure that this executive order is repealed and never becomes effective in the United States of America,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said over the chanting.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) attempted to use the megaphone that had been turned down by Pelosi and Schumer. When it sputtered, he shouted over the crowd. “When someone attacks Muslim Americans, they attack all of us,” Booker said.

None of the Democrats at the rally got into the arcane details of how they could slow down Trump nominees. Most stayed on the moral questions raised by the executive orders; Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told the story of a Muslim immigrant in his state who had been elected homecoming queen.

“Just as I worked at the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, there are thousands of Muslims likely working to keep America safe,” said Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), one of two Muslims in Congress.

Few of the Democrats who spoke were heard, or recognized, by protesters. The exceptions were Booker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); the sight of his fringe of white hair sparked some of the evening’s loudest cheers.

“We do not hate the Muslim people and we want them to know that,” said Sanders.

After he left the rally, Schumer walked up to the elevated plaza in front of the Supreme Court and posed for a picture with Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, the surging crowd behind them. It was left to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to close out the rally with a chant of “Tear down this ban,” and when he was done, camera lights and video equipment were slowly taken apart.

Much of the crowd stayed behind to protest. Stephanie Middendorf, 40, said that she’d missed the weekend’s protests because of work, and hoped that the Republicans who opposed Trump’s orders would join onto Democratic bills.

Muhammad Saddiqui, 36, had managed to join the protests at Dulles International Airport. He recounted how he and his wife had dolled up for an office party, and then heard that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) was rallying a few miles away.

“I said, if our governor can do it, I have no excuse,” said Saddiqui. “I didn’t expect this order to happen. Not this quickly.”

Update: This piece originally misidentified one speaker as Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Ca.). The speaker was Rep. Judy Chu (D-Ca.), and the reference has been removed.