For the past few weeks Shelley Bendall has tried to reach U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, but she’s mostly been getting his voicemail.
When Lindsay Stradtman has tried to call U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, she’s either gotten voicemail or a recording that says his voicemail is full.
With the election of Donald Trump — and the appointments and executive orders that have followed — liberal activists have been taking to the phones to voice their concerns, overwhelming the phones of Kentucky’s senators.
“I understand, especially now, I feel like more people are engaging in civic behavior,” said Stradtman, 34, of Lexington. “But it just seems like its at the point where they can’t even clean out the backlog.”
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It’s not just a problem in Kentucky. Phone lines have been clogged throughout the Capitol since President Donald Trump took office, to the point where staffers are looking to add more phones to the system.
“There’s definitely been an influx of calls lately,” said Kelsey Cooper, a spokeswoman for Paul.
Cooper has been checking and clearing out the voicemail at Paul’s Lexington field office several times a day lately, trying to free up space for more people to leave messages. She also said more staffers have been assigned to answer calls at Paul’s Bowling Green office, noting that “an overwhelming majority” of the calls are coming from out of state.
“It’s been a top priority to be as accessible and responsive to every Kentuckian possible,” Cooper said.
For staff in Bowling Green, a large part of the job is casework — listening to constituents to help them with problems with passports or with the Veterans Affairs office, or any other issue that may arise.
“When these large number of calls come through, that makes it difficult to work on casework,” Cooper said.
Meanwhile, activists trying to voice opposition have begun to get frustrated.
On Tuesday, protesters gathered outside of McConnell’s Louisville office, chanting for him to answer their calls.
“If I want my message heard on the day that there’s a vote, I should be able to,” said Bendall, 45, of Lexington. “They need to be responsive. They need to answer their phones. They need to figure it out.”
McConnell’s office released a statement to Kentuckians earlier this week apologizing for the high number of unanswered calls and putting the blame on liberal activists from outside of Kentucky.
“As Senate Majority Leader, Senator McConnell receives calls from across the country on a variety of issues. Senator McConnell’s staff answers as many calls as possible in the course of a workday, but thanks to a coordinated effort by liberal activist groups across the country many Kentuckians have found it difficult in recent weeks to get through to their senator to discuss the issues of the day, schedule meetings, or seek timely assistance,” McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said. “We appreciate the patience of our constituents, and will continue to do our very best to respond to every Kentuckian who contacts our office.”
Neither Stradtman nor Bendall called very often before the election, but both have been unhappy with some of the policies they’ve seen in Washington recently. Bendall said she had heard from state lawmakers and former staffers that phone calls were the most effective way of making her voice heard.
Bendall said she called on Tuesday to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Stradtman said she was upset by Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Both activists feel that being able to talk to someone on the phone, rather than leave a message on the answering machine, is important.
“The worry is that they may just erase the voicemails,” Stradtman said. “At least when you’re talking to someone, you know that somebody is writing it down.”