With an Iran sanctions bill cruising towards 60 co-sponsors in the Senate, CodePink visited the offices of two vocal Democratic backers on Thursday, trying to steer the measure off a filibuster-proof course.
Around noon, eight women from the anti-war group waltzed into the Hart Building office of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a lead co-sponsor of the bill.
CodePink Co-Founder Medea Benjamin introduced the team as a “tour group” and began spouting off facts about New Jersey, including its record-setting poverty rate and residents’ continued struggle to overcome the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy.
“His constituents are mainly concerned about poverty, jobs, education and affordable health care,” Benjamin said to the women perched on the senator’s blue leather office furniture, “but one of the things that the senator is most focused on is something that is actually not in the best interest of his constituents.”
A few Capitol Police officers who had been alerted to protest action congregated outside the door as Benjamin detailed the White House’s push to promote talks with Iran over Senate action on the bill, which President Barack Obama has threatened to veto.
“Are constituents calling you about this Iran sanctions bill?” Benjamin turned to ask an aide manning the phone, who seemed mildly surprised to be fielding a question from the loud visitors.
The staffer said a lot of callers opposed the measure, but some were in favor, and eventually confirmed that the callers were “mostly against it.”
Another front desk aide told an inquiring Capitol Police officer that the staff was opting to let CodePink finish its demonstration, as long as things stayed peaceful. Menendez’s staff let Benjamin continue her speech and accuse the senator of representing the interests of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, rather than New Jersey.
“So the senator’s constituents are mostly against it and yet the senator is pushing it,” she said. “That is a strange anomaly.”
That comment drew the ire of another visitor who had been waiting patiently in the office throughout the demonstration. He accused CodePink of misrepresenting the issue and said, “If it wasn’t for Senator Menendez, there would be no negotiating today.”
After a brief exchange, the women rose from their seats and began unrolling pink banners reading, “DIPLOMACY WITH IRAN NO SANCTIONS! NO WAR!”
A videographer captured the scene for the group, which intends to use it to beef up its online advocacy efforts.
CodePink then headed down to the third floor to visit the office of New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, another chief proponent of additional sanctions against Iran.
The “tour group” guise and demonstration played out similarly, except for when the group asked an aide about calls on the issue. Schumer’s front desk staffer declined to provide that information for the CodePink camera, deferring to office policy. Eventually, the group was granted a meeting in the hallway outside the office with Schumer’s national security director.
In addition to the afternoon protests, set to culminate in the office of Illinois Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk, the women did some morning lobbying. They dropped by the offices of 12 senators who haven’t yet taken a stance on the bill. They also delivered anti-sanctions petitions from constituents in Illinois, Oklahoma, Vermont and Washington.
CodePink is urging senators to publicly oppose the bill as a way to support Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who faces increasing pressure to bring the measure up for a vote. One of the activists, Kate Chandley, explained the strategy: “We’re pointing out that party unity on this is really important.”
The group did not pay a visit to the House side, where GOP leaders are considering taking up the Senate bill.