‘Caller ID blocked, I thought she was Manchin’: How Meghan Markle lobbied Congress for paid family leave

Duchess wrote to senators last month calling for them to heal ‘long-existing fault lines in our communities’

The reintroduction of paid family leave into the Democrat’s social welfare bill came amid a struggle between senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and the progressive left – as well as the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle.

The British royal, according to accounts from at least two Republican senators on Wednesday, phoned to advocate for paid family leave among both parties in Congress as Democrats said that paid leave would in fact be put to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

Democrat senator Kirsten Gilibrand told Politico she provided the Duchess with the phone numbers of her Republican colleagues Susan Collins and Shelley Moore Capito beforehand – in what was an apparent effort to boost support among her centrist colleagues for paid family leave.

“I talked to each of the women senators and let them know that she’s going to reach out, because she only completed two of the calls,” said Ms Gillibrand, of New York, who has been one of the biggest advocates for including paid family leave in Build Back Better – also known as the reconciliation bill, which could pass the Senate with a bare majority rather than the 60 votes typically needed to overcome a filibuster.

The Democrat said Ms Markle, who “wants to be part of a working group to work on paid leave long term”, was planning to call a number of other senators to show her support for paid family leave. Apparently these senators have already been told of the call in advance.

That did not stop Ms Moore Capito from mistaking the Duchess of Sussex for her fellow senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, who allegedly always calls her from a blocked number.

“I’m in my car. I’m driving. It says caller ID blocked,” the Republican told Politico. “Honestly … I thought it was Sen Manchin. His calls come in blocked. And she goes ‘Sen Capito?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘This is Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.”

Ms Collins meanwhile said she “was happy to talk with” Ms Markle but was “more interested in what the people of Maine are telling me about it”.

The centrist Republican has frequently accused US President Joe Biden and his party of overspending with the reconciliation bill, and despite winning her seat in 2020 on the promise of “compromise, collegiality, and bipartisanship”, is not expected to back Build Back Better when it comes to a vote.

 “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,” the Maine senator told The New York Times on Wednesday.

The revelations about Ms Markle’s role behind the scenes of talks on Build Back Better came as Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and majority leader Steny Hoyer said vote on the $1.75tn (£1.29tn) reconciliation bill and a separate infrastructure bill could happen before the end of the week.

According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, paid family leave was available for less than a quarter of American workers. Many of the measures included in Build Back Better are also widely popular.

The Duchess, a US citizen by birth, called on senators in an open letter last month to support paid leave as a way of correcting “long-existing fault lines in our communities” exposed by Covid.

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