Sen. Whitehouse Addresses Anxious Trump Protesters

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The waves of protest sweeping the country made their way to the Statehouse and later to a school on the city’s East Side, where Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., encountered a crowd upset with the actions of the nation’s new president.

Due to the unexpected public outcry, a Jan. 29 meet-and-greet with constituents in the basement of the Nathan Bishop Middle School was moved to the school auditorium to accommodate the swelling crowd. The room quickly reached its 500-person limit and several hundred more protesters were crowded in the school’s foyer or spilled out onto the school’s expansive front steps.

Whitehouse had to address the pushback against not only the policies of President Trump, but he also had to explain why he voted for some of Trump’s cabinets picks and why he wasn’t doing more to resist presidential actions, such as Trump’s immigration policy.

Trump protesters outside the Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Trump protesters outside the Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Whitehouse promised do his best as a member of the minority party to stop and resist Republican changes, such as repealing the Affordable Care Act. Republicans, he predicted, will not be able to fulfill their goal of “repeal and replace” and eventually look to Democrats to modify what’s known as Obamacare.

Any such deal, Whitehouse said, requires that Republicans “throw in the towel on repeal, and we’ll work with you to improve Obamacare if you want.”

Whitehouse also explained that he voted to confirm Mike Pompeo, former Republican representative from Kansas, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency because he felt Pompeo could stand up to Trump if he “tried to do something far more horrific than he has done so far.”

On questions of Pompeo’s support for torture, Whitehouse said he would oppose any efforts to change the definition of torture, as he has done before.

He promised to vote against confirming Sen. Jeff Session, R-Ala., as attorney general, Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, and Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Whitehouse noted that Pruitt will face intense questioning over the release of 3,000 e-mails between himself, as attorney general of Oklahoma, and fossil-fuel companies. An open records request for those e-mails has been unanswered for more than two years.

“I think what we are seeing is an effort to bring people in who have huge conflicts of interest. Who represent the exact interests that the organizations were set up to defend against,” Whitehouse said.

Court appointments will face a similar fight. “We have to hold a filibuster on Supreme Court nominees,” Whitehouse said.

The nomination process will be an opportunity to show the problems of a conservative court, such as the effects of the Citizens United decision and gerrymandering in voting districts.

In response to a question about what progressive Rhode Islanders can do to influence change in Washington, D.C., Whitehouse offered the words of recently retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., “Don’t agonize. Organize.”