President Donald Trump's administration is dismissing the thousands of demonstrators railing against his policies. People are out in the streets and flooding Republican senators' phone lines in the three weeks since he was inaugurated. But Trump's press secretary says the protests are being bankrolled by liberal groups and are not indicative of an organic, grassroots movement.
"Protesting has become a profession now," White House press secretary Sean Spicer told Fox News on Monday. "They have every right to do that, don't get me wrong, but I think that we need to call it what it is. It's not these organic uprisings that we've seen through the last several decades, the tea party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid, astroturf type movement."
Spicer isn't the only Republican to dismiss the protests — which have cropped up against everything from Trump's immigration ban targeting Muslims to Trump's cabinet nominees, especially Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for secretary of education.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is the chair of the committee that will seek to elect Republicans to the Senate in 2018, also said the calls flooding into his office against DeVos and Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, are from paid protesters.
"There is certainly a number of people calling from out of state — New York, California — that's happening," Gardner told a local Colorado news station. "There are certain paid activists through Craigslist. We've seen the advertisements."
Dismissing the protests outright without addressing protesters' concerns, however, is a risky move for Trump and the Republican Party.
Just ask former President Barack Obama and the Democrats.
Back in 2009, when lawmakers were debating both the bailout and stimulus packages, as well as a healthcare overhaul, conservatives came out by the thousands to protest those moves — both at marches and at town hall meetings members of Congress held across the country.
The group of protesters dubbed themselves the Tea Party, and the movement helped shepherd in a massive Republican House majority in 2010.
And just like Spicer, the Obama administration dismissed the movement early on, calling it a "manufactured" "astroturf" movement — a nod to the movement being fake grass rather than true grassroots.
In August 2009, less than eight months into Obama's tenure, then White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he was unconcerned by the Tea Party in an interview with the Washington Times.
"I get asked every day about the myriad of things that could be derailing our message," Gibbs said. "I would point out that I don't know what all those guys were doing, what were they called, the Brooks Brothers Brigade in Florida in 2000, appear to have rented a similar bus and are appearing together at town hall meetings throughout the country."
Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also dismissed the Tea Party as an "astroturf" movement in April 2009, when the group organized massive Tax Day rallies across the country.
"This initiative is funded by the high end," Pelosi said of the Tea Party's Tax Day rallies in an interview on April 15 on KTVU, a local news station in her home district of San Francisco. "We call it astroturf, it's not really a grassroots movement, it's astroturf by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich instead of for the great middle class."
Republicans are starting to see similar anger from constituents about Trump's agenda that Democrats saw less than a year into Obama's tenure.
Republican members of Congress have been confronted by angry protesters at events in their district, including Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, who had to be led out of a constituent event by police after a large number of people showed up to protest an Affordable Care Act repeal.
Rep. Peter Roskam, a Republican who represents a suburban Chicago district, was also met by protesters angry over the GOP's effort to repeal the ACA.
Democratic lawmakers, for their part, are energized by the demonstrations against Trump.
Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, poked fun at Spicer's insinuation that the protests cropping up were carried out by paid protesters.
"Hey. Do me a favor and RT if you are not a paid protester?" Schatz tweeted.
By press time, the tweet had nearly 4,700 retweets.