Democrats deploy a divisive duchess to lobby on paid leave

Democrats deploy a divisive duchess to lobby on paid leave
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It was fascinating to learn that Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTlaib blasts Biden judicial nominee whose firm sued environmental lawyer The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Former aide says she felt 'abandoned' by Democrats who advanced Garcetti nomination as ambassador to India MORE (D-N.Y.) recruited celebrity Meghan MarkleMeghan MarklePrince Harry and Meghan treat Atlanta's King Center to Black-owned food trucks for MLK Day The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Meghan getting confidential sum from UK news outlet for copyright infringement MORE, the Duchess of SussexMeghan MarklePrince Harry and Meghan treat Atlanta's King Center to Black-owned food trucks for MLK Day The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Meghan getting confidential sum from UK news outlet for copyright infringement MORE and a former actress, to lobby fellow senators on the issue of paid family leave. Inviting actors and other notorious figures for public relations is nothing new in Washington, a city often wickedly referred to as “Hollywood for ugly people.” Ms. Markle, the wife of Great Britain’s Prince HarryPrince HarryPrince Harry and Meghan treat Atlanta's King Center to Black-owned food trucks for MLK Day The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Prince Harry appealing UK government's police protection decision MORE, was certainly an interesting choice for this purpose.

The prince and his wife famously gave up their responsibilities and platform as members of Britain’s royal family in 2019 when they broke away from his family to settle in the United States, ostensibly for reasons of privacy. Ironically, since they have been in their California home, they have inserted themselves and their opinions in highly charged political issues, weighing in on the First Amendment, climate change, women’s issues and race relations, to name a few.

Now Ms. Markle is speaking out on the issue of paid family leave, a powder keg at the moment that has some Democrats scrambling to ensure its inclusion in President BidenJoe BidenDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors On The Money — Vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses nixed Warner tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case MORE’s stalled Build Back Better agenda.

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Ms. Markle, in defiance of British convention that royal title-holders should refrain from political involvement, used her title in multiple salvos to members of Congress. In October, she penned her open letter on “From the Desk of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex” letterhead, urging Congress to establish paid leave as a “national right.” In her text, she professes to write as an “engaged citizen and a parent and as a mom,” though she signed the letter, “Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex.”

Last week, Markle — uninvited — called several shocked senators on their personal mobile numbers, apparently provided to her by Gillibrand, to lobby them on paid leave. There is bittersweet irony in the Sussexes bidding for involvement in social issues in the U.S. after throwing away their positions of nobility and purpose in the United Kingdom to have no more standing than mere celebrities. 

Quite apart from her judgment in selecting a lobbying teammate and giving her private numbers, Gillibrand eschewed common sense by facilitating such unauthorized calls to congress members. The means were inappropriate, as was the messenger. Markle only has stature and standing from the family into which she married — but from which she subsequently withdrew and has traduced.

Harry and Meghan exercised their right to reject their royal positions and the associated responsibilities. They shouldn’t — but clearly do — expect to have it both ways, looking to trade on what they have cast off.  

Members of the British royal family are expected to be apolitical and not make themselves the center of attention. Their mission is to unite, rather than divide. The Sussexes sully the titles they still retain by exploiting them, especially to engage in politics.  

No matter that Ms. Markle has positioned herself as a humble, concerned citizen and mother; her efforts have earned the scorn of some royal courtiers, lawmakers and news media on both sides of the Atlantic. The call to senators and her letter amounted to “using her British title and marriage to the sixth in line to the throne to interfere in U.S. politics,” wrote journalist and Prince Harry biographer Angela Levin in the Daily Mail.

Said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of those whom Markle called: “Much to my surprise, she called me on my private line and she introduced herself as the Duchess of Sussex, which is kind of ironic. … I was happy to talk with her. But I’m more interested in what the people of Maine are telling me about it.”  

Markle clearly wants to be relevant as a political influencer — and she is free to do so. But instead of exploiting it, she should give up her title or at least make it clear that she is not speaking on behalf of the royal family. Through self-promotion and ill treatment of the royal family, the Sussexes risk contempt and derision in the U.K. In the U.S., many recognize that celebrity is no substitute for substance, and if they continue down this path, they may be similarly judged.  

Gillibrand did, however, get one thing right: If anybody is an expert in family leave, it is Meghan Markle. Royal family leave, that is.

Lee Cohen, a senior fellow of the Bow Group and the Bruges Group, was adviser on Great Britain to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus. Follow him on Twitter @LeeLeesco3.