Shortly after the president signed his (first) disastrous travel ban, I sent copies of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank to three people I felt could benefit from reading it, or at least remembering the author:
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
- Senator Marco Rubio
I wanted to send it to many, many more people, but at $7 a book and around $3.50 for shipping, this was more realistic. For context, here’s the letter I wrote to each of them:
Dear Senator McConnell/Speaker Ryan/Senator Rubio,
Please remember the catastrophic effect on people’s lives our policies can have. In this package, I’ve included a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary. It is a good reminder of how the people we reject live and, ultimately, how they can die.
Anne Frank’s father, Otto, tried to bring his family to the United States. He, like so many other European Jews, was rejected by our country—the same one that prides itself on welcoming those who are persecuted.
We can invent so many reasons to say “no,” and turn away our brothers and sisters whose lives have been torn apart by violence.
Do not give in to fear on behalf of the American people. It is not what we want, and it is not who we are.
I am the descendant of Polish, Ukrainian, Irish, English, and French immigrants. My ancestors sought refuge in this country more than once. Please, I beg you, dismantle the President’s order to turn away refugees and legal residents of our country.
History is not doomed to repeat itself, but it will if we allow it.
Thank you for your time,
I was not under the impression that this was going to have some great impact on their policies, or that I’d get any kind of response. I assumed that, at most, someone in their office would look at the contents of the package, roll their eyes, and then move on to the next letter in the growing pile.
However, I got three responses. Three very different responses.
Senator Marco Rubio
I received Senator Rubio’s response first. Here is an excerpt of the letter:
Thank you so much for taking the time to send me The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, I appreciate the gesture. America is truly blessed with individuals who offer their time and resources to educate others in their community.
I take my responsibility in the Senate very seriously. To that end, I keep a library in my Senate office of books that concerned citizens have sent me. This library is open to my staff as well so that they can learn more about important issues facing our nation.
I will certainly keep your thoughts in mind when these issues come before the Senate.
I got this letter on the night of President Trump’s first congressional address. It was frustrating to receive this and then see Senator Rubio clap for the President’s deportation plans and VOICE initiative.
That said, I appreciate the response. It wasn’t my dream scenario, which was, of course, Senator Rubio going all in against the President’s travel ban, rallying support amongst his fellow Republicans and putting a stop to the 1940’s echo that is “America First.” But he, or at least someone on his staff, read the letter and thought a little bit about the girl who wrote the Diary and how she could have still been alive today if only we had helped.
Now, a copy of The Diary of a Young Girl has a home in a Senator’s library and maybe, one day, he will see it and think a little harder about a vote or piece of legislation he writes.
This isn’t a perfect response from Senator Rubio, but it recognizes the validity of my opinion as a concerned (read: livid) citizen of the United States.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
For those unfamiliar with post office lingo, RTS means Return to Sender, and if the post office had made the decision it would have been stamped on. There is also new tape closing the package that reads “OPENED FOR INSPECTION.” I found this odd, so I looked up the package tracking information and it got all the way to Washington and seems to have been delivered to the Senate mail room. It was then, presumably, opened for inspection.
There was no explanation included for why the package was sent back, so I’ll refrain from speculating. If you know more about how mail is processed in the Senate mailroom, let me know. It’s troubling that it was sent back, but maybe, just maybe, there was a legitimate reason.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senator McConnell’s response was one I really never expected. He sent the full package back with this letter from his lawyer:
Dear Ms. Katz,
On behalf of the Office of Senator Mitch McConnell, I write in response to your recent package containing the book The Diary of a Young Girl. Thank you for your very kind gesture.
Unfortunately, Senate ethics policies prohibit the office from accepting such a gift, so we are forced–through no fault of your own–to return it. Please realize that the office’s adherence to this policy does not diminish the Senator’s appreciation for your thoughtfulness.
Thank you again.
I have a number of questions. First, did they not think I’d go through and read the Senate gift rules? According to the General Gifts Rule, a Senate member can accept a gift valued under $50, as long as the giver isn’t a lobbyist, foreign agent, or entity that employs such individuals.
I am not any of those things, nor have I ever been. So I figured there must be something more in the gifts rules that say Senator Rubio should have returned his copy of The Diary of a Young Girl as well. I wouldn’t want him to get in trouble.
The general rule is still the only applicable portion of the rules I found. Here is the text of the rule, as of 3/14/17:
A Member, officer, or employee may accept a gift (other than cash or cash equivalent) which the Member, officer, or employee reasonably and in good faith believes to have a value of less than $50, and a cumulative value from one source during a calendar year of less than $100. No gift with a value below $10 shall count toward the $100 annual limit. No formal recordkeeping is required by this paragraph, but a Member,officer, or employee shall make a good faith effort to comply with this paragraph.
Now, maybe the person sorting mail thought the paperback copy of The Diary of a Young Girl cost more than $50. Though, I doubt it. The price, $6.99, is listed on the back.
Second, if the senator appreciated my thoughtfulness so much, why did he send the letter back? He could have at least kept that.
Finally, I’d like Mr. Cameron to rest assured that I never believed Senator McConnell’s returning my book was somehow my fault.
Going forward, my plan is to print out the senate gift rules and send the package back to Senator McConnell with the print out. It doesn’t seem that Representative Ryan is interested in listening, so I’ll send his copy to someone else.
If you have any suggestions about who should get Speaker Ryan’s copy or have any questions about how you, too, can remind our elected officials of the gravity of their jobs, let me know in the comments.