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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two years ago, the Women's March sparked a movement that propelled a record number of women into politics. But today, it is fractured and so controversial that prominent Democratic women are steering clear of it altogether.

Why it matters: This year's march is scheduled to take place on Saturday in Washington D.C. and 280 other places across the country. But despite its early momentum, the march has become at best an afterthought and at worst politically toxic for elected officials and political organizations that once supported it.

The big picture: Democrats still see women as key to their chances of claiming the White House in 2020. They largely credit the 2017 Women's March — which drew between 3.3 and 5.2 million people — as the spark that ignited the left's political backlash against President Trump and helped elect a record number of women to Congress in November.

  • This year's march is the second planned by the Women's March organization. Last January's march was organized by local D.C. groups.

Yes, but: Divisions among the Women's March leadership, including accusations of anti-Semitism and exclusion of the LGBTQ community, has led to shrinking support.

  • The Democratic National Committee, whose chair Tom Perez spoke at the first march, is not involved at all this year, but a spokeswoman told Axios that it "stands in solidarity with all those fighting for women's rights."
  • EMILY's List, which helps get women elected to public office, is also not directly supporting this year's march, but is holding a training day after.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center is also no longer listed as a sponsor, the Daily Beast reported.

What they're saying: "We are organizing under a big tent, and that big tent is always going to be a little messy inside because we've got a lot of people with a lot of history, a lot of priorities, a lot of trauma who are coming together in ways that have not been done before," Rachel Carmona, COO of the Women's March, told Axios.

Still, it's a Catch-22 for Democratic candidates. They know women voters are crucial for their 2020 prospects, and that the Women's March was a significant force in driving them to the polls. But the chaos and factions within the organization itself has put them in a sticky situation. Even those who were active in 2017 are reluctant to align themselves with this year's events.

  • In 2017, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris spoke at the D.C. march, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Amy Klobuchar attended. Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke at the Boston march. This year, Harris, Warren, Klobuchar (who said she'll be at a funeral), and Pelosi aren't attending. Gillibrand is speaking at the Iowa Women's March.
  • Even though she isn't attending, Harris told Axios, “I think that the Women’s March is an important place and a gathering and harnessing of energy that is about women empowerment, about women in roles of leadership on every issue."

Some elected officials had yet to finalize their weekend plans, and others were reluctant to respond to the controversies surrounding the Women's March organization, but confirmed they had no plans to participate.

  • Even some who rode the "women's wave" into the House of Representatives, such as Rep. Jennifer Wexton, are shying away. Others such as Reps. Ilhan Omar and Jahana Hayes will participate in their districts instead of in D.C.
  • "I understand why DNC did what it did [by pulling out of the march] and that’s a powerful statement they made about anti-Semitism. I also think what the Women’s March did two years ago was so important for the country. I’ll leave it at that," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, a potential 2020 candidate who isn't attending the march.

What's next: On Friday, the Women's March released their agenda — a series of progressive policy goals, including Medicare for All and "ending war." These goals embrace the policy proposals of the most liberal wing of the Democratic party.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who didn't yet have firm plans to march this weekend, told Axios, "We [took] our power to the polls, we showed up en masse, and now I think it’s time that we show how showing up at the polls translates to truly transformative policy."

The other side: Two right-leaning women's groups organized a counter-rally to speak about against the Women's March, calling it a March for ALL Women.

  • “We’re here to speak up, because women should not be hijacked for a political agenda," said Carrie Lukas, president of Independent Women’s Forum. "Women, in all their individual variety, deserve to be heard.”

The bottom line: "Big social movements are always complicated and messy," Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood who spoke at the 2017 march, told Axios. "That’s the history of social movements. I think what’s really important is that the takeaway from all this is that women aren’t going back."

Axios reporters Alexi McCammond and Alayna Treene contributed to this report.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.

5 hours ago - World

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.

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