Democrats have spent months trying to skewer U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth for a dearth of public appearances in her district.
This week that effort got a leg up, thanks to a high-profile diplomatic trip by Granger that caught the attention of national party leaders.
Granger and a handful of other high-ranking Republicans spent part of their in-state work week meeting with officials in Russia – including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and members of the Russian Duma.
National Democrats have decried the trip, which took place over the 4th of July holiday, as an olive branch to “enemies and adversaries” of the United States.
Granger is a powerful national security leader on Capitol Hill, and the only member of Congress to attend the meetings with a half-dozen GOP senators.
The trip was not publicized by Granger's office, which declined to say whether she had any events planned in her district that week. A spokesman said Thursday that she would return in time for Congress's votes next week, but declined to specify any other travel plans.
Granger said in a statement Friday that lawmakers used the opportunity to express “grave concerns” over Russian policies and potential involvement in U.S. elections. She said the trip laid groundwork for productive conversations between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two meet later this month.
“We hope to begin an ongoing dialogue with this group, and I am personally convinced that future discussions are essential and can be helpful to our long-term relationship with the Russians,” Granger said in the statement.
Back home, Granger’s critics say the trip epitomizes their frustration with a congresswoman who doesn’t hold the type of public events her neighboring lawmakers do — including Reps. Michael Burgess (R), Marc Veasey (D) and Joe Barton (R).
"She's not here," said Benbrook teacher Vanessa Adia, a Democrat running against Granger this fall. "We never know where she is."
Granger’s Fort Worth district is considered safe Republican territory by leaders from both parties.
Local activists on the left say they're angling for a smaller victory: Getting Granger's attention.
They've set up demonstrations outside her office on Fridays, when members of Congress are typically back home in their districts.
"It's a difficult district because this district is so Republican," said Lon Burnam, a former state representative who joined demonstrators on Friday for their weekly protest. Burnam, who carried an Adia sign, said Granger is too tied to "weapons" and corporate interests.
Granger told the Star-Telegram last year that she had stopped holding town halls in her district because of threats to her personal safety. She says she instead uses private meetings to talk to constituents.
This week liberal activists seized on Granger’s highly publicized absence from the district, penning their sentiments on more than 150 postcards delivered to her Fort Worth office on Friday.
One postcard read: "Dear Rep. Granger, Why are you in Russia? Your constituents do not appreciate you boondoggling while so many issues here languish."
Demonstrators, calling themselves Patriots for the Children, started the protests outside her office in response to Trump’s “zero tolerance” apprehension policy – blamed for a massive uptick of children being separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Friday, they expressed frustration with Congress’s lack of progress on that issue.
"There is still a discussion to be had about immigration reform, the mission of ICE, etcetera," said Ernie Moran, a teacher and former journalist who organized the weekly protests. "This is not political — these Fridays are not political. They may be about activism, but it is for a humanitarian purpose not a political one."
In early April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy, which charged adults who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without a visa with illegal entry. The policy was applied at the border, including to families seeking asylum from Central American countries experiencing gang violence. In practice, parents were charged and placed in detention while children where placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Media accounts nationwide report that there are currently about 3,000 children separated from families. The government says it is trying to reunite the families under the pressure of a federal court order. The government is also reportedly using DNA testing to reunite families.
"I think it is important for people to show their disgust with the administration," Burnam said. He said U.S. policies in Central America helped create unstable governments from which people can't build safe lives.
"This crisis is perpetuated by our public policies," Burnam said.