Meghan in Washington! Duchess of Sussex is invited to a bipartisan dinner with 21 female senators to discuss paid family leave – as the royal ramps up her political activism

  • Meghan Markle, 40, has been invited to bipartisan dinner by Kirsten Gillibrand  
  • Tradition of women of the Senate gathering for dinner has gone back for years
  • Comes after the Duchess of Sussex began cold calling Republican Senators 
  • Move is latest in a flurry of political activism from the Los Angeles-born duchess

The Duchess of Sussex has been asked to attend a bipartisan dinner at which the 21 women senators are invited, it has been revealed, amid Republican criticism of her for meddling in US politics. 

Meghan Markle, 40, who is currently living in her $14 million California mansion having stepped back from royal duty last year, has been ramping up her political activism in recent weeks. 

The Duchess on October 20 wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer advocating for paid family leave – a letter that was handed out to several media outlets.

On Wednesday Politico reported that she had – following a conversation with Kirsten Gillibrand, senator for New York – taken her lobbying a step further and picked up the phone to speak with Republican Sens. Susan Collins from Maine and Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia. 

Gillibrand has now told The 19th she plans to invite Meghan to a  bipartisan dinner she is hosting in the coming month with all the women senators to give her a platform to discuss paid leave.      

The Duchess of Sussex has been asked to attend a bipartisan dinner at which all women senators are invited, it has been revealed 

She said: ‘I could hear how sincere she was about advocacy.’

Meanwhile she revealed Senator Deb Fisher, a Republican from Nebraska, told her she is ‘delighted and looking forward to that conversation.’

Earlier this week, it emerged Meghan had called two Republican senators on their private numbers and used her royal title to urge them to vote in favor of paid parental leave – shocking the politicians with her latest foray into political activism.

The move is just the beginning for the Los Angeles-born mother of two, as she is now hoping to be part of ‘a working group to work on paid leave long term,’ according to Senator Gillibrand. 

But Meghan’s attempts at advocacy have been met with stern resistance, with Jason Smith, a US Representative from Missouri calling on her to stop using her title as leverage.

He told TMZ: ‘If she wants to be a royal, she needs to be a royal – she can’t have it both ways.

‘I think it’s great for a U.S. citizen or for a former movie star of Suits to be lobbying U.S. senators.

‘But when you lobby U.S. senators, as Meghan Markle has done, as: ‘I’m Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex’ – she’s lobbying Congress and interfering from a position of using her royal title.’ 

Gillibrand has now told The 19th she plans to invite Meghan to a bipartisan dinner she is hosting in the coming month with all the women senators to give her a platform to discuss paid leave

She called Sens. Collins from Maine and Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, both of whom said they were shocked that Markle called out of the blue and noted that she even used her royal title to lobby for the cause.

Collins said: ‘I was happy to talk with her, but I’m more interested in what people from Maine are telling me about paid leave.’ 

Gillibrand, one of the most vocal campaigners in the senate for paid parental leave, handed the Duchess the phone numbers for Susan Collins, senator for Maine, and Shelley Moore Capito, senator for West Virginia.

Moore Capito said she expected the call to be Joe Manchin, the other senator for West Virginia. Manchin, a moderate Democrat, has been calling the shots for Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, wringing concessions from progressives and cajoling moderate Republicans like Moore Capito to agree. 

She told Politico: ‘I’m in my car. I’m driving. It says caller ID blocked. Honestly, I thought it was Senator Manchin, his calls come in blocked. 

‘And she goes “Sen. Capito?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “This is Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.”‘

Kamala Harris hosted a dinner for the senators earlier this year, with the group sharing images after the intimate meal  

Moore Capito added: ‘I couldn’t figure out how she got my number.’

Collins said she too was called by the 40-year-old.

She expressed amusement that the Los Angeles-born Markle was using her British title to lobby U.S. senators, after having quit the royal family in 2020.  

‘Much to my surprise, she called me on my private line and introduced herself as the Duchess of Sussex, which is kind of ironic’ said Collins. 

She told Politico: ‘I was happy to talk with her, but I’m more interested in what people from Maine are telling me about paid leave.’

Collins later told The New York Times: ‘She just weighed in that she thought paid leave was really important, and I told her there were a lot of different approaches, and people were working on it.’ 

Biden had initially hoped to push through plans for a 12-week paid family and medical leave program, costing $500 billion over 10 years.  

The benefit declined from 12 to four weeks, as the legislation shrank to less than $2 trillion from $3.5 trillion to win agreement from Manchin and fellow moderate Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. 

Gillibrand said on Wednesday that she gave senators’ numbers to Markle, and said it was just the start. 

Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican senator for West Virginia, told Politico on Wednesday that she was shocked to receive a call from Markle

Susan Collins, Republican senator for Maine, was also called by Markle. She said: ‘I told her there were a lot of different approaches, and people were working on it’ 

‘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,’ Gillibrand said. 

‘She’s going to call some others, so I let them know in advance.’ 

Gillibrand added: ‘She wants to be part of a working group to work on paid leave long term and she’s going to be. 

‘Whether this comes to fruition now or later, she’ll be part of a group of women that hopefully will work on paid leave together.’  

Gillibrand, a Democrat senator for New York, has said she handed out Collins and Moore Capito’s phone numbers to Markle to call. Gillibrand is one of the most vocal champions of paid parental leave

Markle’s latest intervention heightens speculation that she sees herself in a political position in the future, like her heroines Angelina Jolie and Amal Clooney.

Some have even speculated that she could be considering a run for political office – even the presidency, according to wild online hype. 

In her October 20 letter, Markle wrote: ‘I’m not an elected official, and I’m not a politician. 

‘I’m writing to you at this deeply important time – as a mom – to advocate for paid leave.’ 

The extraordinary 1,030-word letter asked Pelosi and Schumer to consider her plea ‘on behalf of my family, Archie and Lili and Harry’. 

Markle, pictured above with Prince Harry and her first born Archie, made a rare political statement on Wednesday 

The duchess depicted humble beginnings, saying that her family struggled when she was young – despite her well-documented middle class upbringing in which she attended private primary and secondary schools on her Emmy award-winning lighting director father’s $200,000-a-year salary.  

And she now lives in a $14million sprawling mansion in Montecito, California, complete with designer touches. She has also signed a series of lucrative deals with Spotify and Netflix thought to be worth well over $150million. 

‘I grew up on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler,’ Markle wrote. 

‘I knew how hard my parents worked to afford this because even at five bucks, eating out was something special, and I felt lucky. I started working (at the local frozen yogurt shop) at the age of 13.

‘I waited tables, babysat, and piecemealed jobs together to cover odds and ends,’ Markle said.

However, she failed to mention the $750,000 California state lottery win her father scooped in 1990, which funded her secondary education at $9,412-a-semester Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles.  

Meghan also studied a private primary school – Hollywood’s Little Red Schoolhouse nursery, which she attended from the age of two.

The primary school now costs between $20,000 and $28,300-a-year, and was paid for by her father Thomas and her airline steward mother Doria’s salaries.  

She went on to study at Northwestern, a college in Illinois, that would have cost $24,000-$28,000-a-year for tuition when Meghan studied there from 1999-2003.

But the duchess described working from the age of 13 doing several jobs ‘to cover odds and ends’ and said saving money was a ‘luxury’ in her family in her letter. 

‘I worked all my life and saved when and where I could – but even that was a luxury – because usually it was about making ends meet and having enough to pay my rent and put gas in my car.

‘I expect many of your constituents have their own version of that story,’ she continued. 

Meghan lived in different humble abodes growing up, but received a private education from kindergarten until high school. She attended Immaculate Heart High School (pictured) on Franklin Ave in Los Angeles from the age of 11 up to 18

She attended a prestigious private nursery and kindergarten school called Little Red Schoolhouse, pictured, which cost $18,800 a year for kindergarten

Meghan said in the letter she recognized she had not struggled in the same way many new parents who are not offered paid leave do. 

‘In June, my husband and I welcomed our second child,’ she said. 

‘Like any parents, we were overjoyed. Like many parents, we were overwhelmed. Like fewer parents, we weren’t confronted with the harsh reality of either spending those first few critical months with our baby or going back to work.’ 

Meghan and Harry were able to take four months family leave after the birth of their daughter Lilibet in June this year, retreating to their Montecito home for several months before returning to work in September. 

The duchess was also able to take time off after having Archie in 2019, staying at home for four months before returning to work. 

The couple also reportedly used nannies to look after their children in the UK, and hired and fired several after Archie was born in 2019.  

The duchess went on to detail her humble beginnings. ‘I grew up on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler,’ she said

Meghan went on to attack the American economic system.  

‘Many of our economic systems are past their expiration date, and as you well know, too many Americans are forced to shortchange themselves when it comes to what matters to them.’ 

A spokesman for Meghan said she ‘cares deeply about advocating for families in the US and around the world’ and had partnered with three campaign organizations on the issue. 

She followed up the letter with an October 30 donation to Paid Leave US, an activist group.

Neil Sroka, the director of communications for the group, took to Twitter to write: ‘The Duchess of Sussex (aka #MeghanMarkle) bought everyone at @PaidLeaveUS a few cups of coffee while we’re working overtime to #SavePaidLeave. 

Markle, pictured at her home in California, was hailed ‘classy’ after buying coffee for employees working overtime to campaign for paid family and medical leave in the US after writing to politicians pleading for it to be made a ‘national right’

The Duchess of Sussex gifted workers at PL+US, a group running a national campaign to win paid family and medical leave by 2022, a $25 Starbucks voucher through her non-profit Archewell

‘Unbelievably classy… and necessary. Truly honored to know she has our backs in the fight to win’. 

The gesture had a mixed reaction online, with some saying small kindnesses can make a ‘huge difference’, while others called the donation ‘pitiful’ and suggested the act could be a publicity stunt.  

Meanwhile as the November 2020 election neared, they urged people to vote – Harry shocking some by admitting he had never voted before. 

A slice of happy family life: Sitting next to grandmother Jeanette, 12-year-old Meghan tucks into a cake at her cousin Donovan’s birthday party in 1993

Meghan on her 11th birthday with her mother Doria in 1992, seen in pictures kept by her uncle Joseph Johnson

Markle, who before meeting Harry was a UN advocate for gender equality and the empowerment of women, was more open about her views. 

‘Every four years, we’re told the same thing: ‘This is the most important election of our lifetime.’ But this one is,’ she told Time magazine ahead of the election. 

‘When we vote, our values are put into action, and our voices are heard.’ 

She hosted feminist icon Gloria Steinem at her Montecito home for a conversation filmed for Makers – a media company that describes itself as ‘accelerating the women’s movement through stories of real-life experiences.’ 

Markle and Steinem discussed the importance of voting, and urged a more open discussion on issues of race and power. 

In recent months Markle has waded back into politics – visiting New York in September and attending meetings at the U.N. before addressing Global Citizen Live, a festival of activism in Central Park. 

Markle (left) joined Gloria Steinem for a ‘backyard chat’ ahead of the election

She is set to appear on November 9 at an online conference organized by the New York Times to discuss ‘women reaching economic and professional parity.’ 

The mother-of-two will appear in a half-hour session called ‘Minding the Gap’ alongside Mellody Hobson, Co-C.E.O. and President, Ariel Investments, and the chairwoman of Starbucks Corporation.

The session is promoted as ‘two groundbreaking figures’ who will share their views. 

‘How can women reach economic and professional parity? Two groundbreaking figures join us to discuss top-down solutions, and reflect on how their shared experiences influenced their thinking about creating opportunities for others,’ the blurb states.’

Meghan Markle’s 1030-word paid parental leave plea letter in full 

Dear Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi,

I’m not an elected official, and I’m not a politician. I am, like many, an engaged citizen and a parent.

And because you and your congressional colleagues have a role in shaping family outcomes for generations to come, that’s how I’m writing to you at this deeply important time – as a mom – to advocate for paid parental leave.

Over the past 20 months, the pandemic has exposed long-existing fault lines in our communities. At an alarming rate, millions of women dropped out of the workforce, staying home with their kids as schools and day cares were closed, and looking after loved ones full-time. The working mom or parent is facing the conflict of being present or being paid. The sacrifice of either comes at a great cost. 

For many, this sacrifice goes back further than the past 20 months; it’s 20 or 30 years, even longer – decades of giving time, body and endless energy not just in pursuit of the American dream, but simply in the dream of stability.

I grew up on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler – it may have cost less back then (to be honest, I can’t remember) – but what I do remember was the feeling; I knew how hard my parents worked to afford this because even at five bucks, eating out was something special and I felt lucky. And as a Girl Scout, when my troop would go for dinner for a big celebration, it was back to that same salad bar or The Old Spaghetti Factory – because that’s what those families could afford to do too.

I started working (at the local frozen yogurt shop) at the age of 13. I waited tables, babysat, and piece-mealed jobs together to cover odds and ends. I worked all my life and saved when and where I could – but even that was a luxury – because usually it was about making ends meet and having enough to pay my rent and put gas in my car.

I expect many of your constituents have their own version of that story. Perhaps you do too. People in our country work incredibly hard, and yet the ask is soft; for a level playing field to achieve their version of a common dream – what is fair, and equal and right. Many of our economic systems are past their expiration date, and as you well know, too many Americans are forced to shortchange themselves when it comes to what matters to them.

In June, my husband and I welcomed our second child. Like any parents, we were overjoyed. Like many parents, we were overwhelmed. Like fewer parents, we weren’t confronted with the harsh reality of either spending those first few critical months with our baby or going back to work. We knew we could take her home, and in that vital (and sacred) stage, devote any and everything to our kids and to our family. We knew that by doing so, we wouldn’t have to make impossible choices about childcare, work, and medical care that so many have to make every single day.

No family should be faced with these decisions. No family should have to choose between earning a living and having the freedom to take care of their child (or a loved one, or themselves, as we would see with a comprehensive paid leave plan). 

In taking care of your child, you take care of your community, and you take care of your country – because when paid leave is a right, we’re creating a foundation that helps address mental health outcomes, health care costs, and economic strength at the starting line. Instead, as it stands now, we spend a fortune as a country paying into symptoms rather than causes. I understand that with everything going on these days, people might find it easy to be apathetic about what’s happening in Washington D.C. And then equally, when it feels like your voice doesn’t matter, you tend to use it less often, but with stakes this high none of us can afford to let apathy win.

I’m writing to you on behalf millions of American families who are using their voices to say that comprehensive paid leave should not be a place to compromise or negotiate. In fact, most nations already have paid leave policies in place. Estonia, for example, offers over a year and a half of leave to be shared by new parents. Many other countries have robust programs that give months of time for both parents (birth or adoptive) to be at home with their child. The United States in stark contrast does not federally guarantee any person a single day of paid leave. And fewer than one in four workers has dedicated paid family leave through their employer. I’m sure you agree that if we are to continue to be exceptional, then we can’t be the exception.

The families you represent need your strong leadership. With paid leave on the cusp of becoming a national reality, I trust you will meet this moment. I know you must hear from your constituents about the choices they are facing every day to make ends meet and care for their families. 

Paid leave should be a national right, rather than a patchwork option limited to those whose employers have policies in place, or those who live in one of the few states where a leave program exists. If we’re going to create a new era of family-first policies, let’s make sure that includes a strong paid leave program for every American that’s guaranteed, accessible, and encouraged without stigma or penalty.

I know how politically charged things can – and have – become. But this isn’t about right or left, it’s about right or wrong. This is about putting families above politics. And for a refreshing change, it’s something we all seem to agree on. At a point when everything feels so divisive, let this be a shared goal that unites us.

So, on behalf of my family, Archie and Lili and Harry, I thank you for considering this letter, and on behalf of all families, I ask you to ensure this consequential moment is not lost.

As ever, 

Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex 

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