Maryland state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17) gets a lot of email — constituent requests, staff correspondence, meeting scheduling. But a couple of weeks ago, she got an email she wasn’t expecting. It came from the White House, and it included an invitation.
“To be clear, I’m a Democrat and I worked really hard to help elect Hillary Clinton,” Kagan told WJW. “So I’m not an obvious invitee to much of anything that’s going on in the White House right now. I dislike President [Donald] Trump’s policies and character.”
Kagan — whose district includes much of Montgomery County — still isn’t sure what exactly she’s been invited to on Oct. 4. She said the message mentioned local elected officials, so she suspects it will have something to do with the Washington region, but she can’t say for sure.
Either way, though, the invitation posed a dilemma for a politician seeking her second term in November. She doesn’t like the White House and doesn’t want to be seen as endorsing its policies or inhabitants. But she also doesn’t want to pass up an opportunity to lobby for the region.
“I had absolutely no interest in lending support or credibility to almost anything I could envision this White House doing,” Kagan said. “At the same time, if I have an opportunity to talk to any decision-makers about funding for our 911 [emergency call] centers or our Metro system, it seems appropriate to snag that opportunity.”
With the RSVP deadline looming, Kagan was torn. So she came up with a way to break the internal tie: On her personal Facebook page, where she said she has nearly 5,000 “friends,” she explained the predicament and asked for advice.
“I’m curious as to your opinion,” she wrote on Sept. 13. “The White House has invited me (among lots of other legislators, I assume) to a meeting there. Would you suggest that I boycott because of my opinions about Trump policies? Or do you think I should attend because of the opportunity to engage on important issues facing our state?”
Almost immediately the responses began rolling in. As of Sept. 24, the post had racked up 166 comments. By
Kagan’s unofficial tally, most supported her going.
“Go, and be a voice of reason and intelligence,” wrote Marla Rosenthal. “Something that is clearly lacking these days!”
Others didn’t see the point.
“No one is listening is the problem with that strategy,” responded Paula Yanoshik.
Kagan’s decided to attend the event, whatever it is. She said she was leaning that way to begin with, but the response from friends convinced her that it was the right call. She readily admits that the vast majority of her Facebook friends are Democrats, so she wasn’t expecting many enthusiastic exclamations of “MAGA.”
But Kagan said she enjoys using social media to both be accessible and poll friends and constituents.
“I love engaging on social media and seeking the wisdom of my super-smart Facebook friends,” Kagan said. “They’re a cross-section of people I respect. I was curious to read their thoughts. … I’ve never been a finger-in-the-wind elected official, but I find it informative.”
She said she doesn’t expect Trump to be present, but that either way she’ll be keeping an eye out for cameras or anything that could portray her giving the administration her support.
Kagan’s been to the White House before, and insists that it’s an awe-inspiring place. But, she said, its current occupant has diminished it.
“If an American can go to the White House and not feel inspired by the symbolism, the architecture, the art, the grandeur of it, they have no soul,” she said. “It is a little bit tarnished by [Trump], but it is still the center of America’s executive branch and therefore one of the most important addresses in the world.”
In a reply to Kagan’s Facebook post, Jeffrey Bochner wrote: “Democracy is a participatory sport. Can’t change things if you don’t go. Decisions are made by those who show up.”
When asked whether she would hesitate to accept an invite from any Republican administration, Kagan took a long pause and said no, Trump is unique.
“The Trump presidency is so mercurial, extreme and dangerous that it seemed prudent to reflect carefully before responding.”
Yes? No? Maybe so
Below is a sampling of the responses Nancy Floreen got on Facebook when she asked whether she should accept an invitation to the White House.
“Go. If you are not at the table, you could be on the menu.” — Ken Sagar
“You can certainly attend as a form of protest. I’d wear a shirt that says #MeToo.” — Eric Levy
“Go … don’t be a snowflake.” — T Edwin Doss
“Please go, and take a knee.” — Laura Zucker
“Personally I would boycott. But if you go wear something that visibly expresses your dissent with his illegitimate regime.” — Sharon Gelman
“Don’t go. You won’t get anything out of it and any suggestions you give them won’t be taken seriously anyway.” — Saqib Ali
“Wear your chastity belt. And a police camera. Don’t sit next to Donald if you can help it.” —Christina Ginsberg