House Democrats are rallying behind a plan to make President Trump’s first speech to Congress as uncomfortable as possible by inviting guests they say will suffer under new White House policies. The strategy means Trump will likely face a crowd including ethnic minorities, LGBT people, undocumented immigrants, the disabled and others when he addresses a joint session on Feb. 28.
It’s a shift in tactics for Democrats, some of whom skipped Trump’s inauguration last month in protest. Democrats say there are no plans to stage a similar boycott of Trump’s speech, but they want to put him face-to-face with people who feel alienated and targeted by his controversial executive orders.
In a letter circulating on Capitol Hill, a group of liberals is urging fellow Democrats to bring guests who have made “a positive impact” on the community “despite discrimination or marginalization.”
“It is our hope that their presence in the House Gallery will remind President Trump that he is not the arbiter of patriotism,” reads the letter. “This country belongs to all of us, and his rhetoric of intolerance will not stand.”
The authors of the letter are as diverse as the crowd they’re seeking to assemble. They include Reps. Jim Langevin (R.I.), who was shot accidentally as a teen and became the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress; Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Cedric Richmond (La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Judy Chu (Calif.), head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; and David Cicilline (R.I.) and Jared Polis (Colo.), the co-chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus.
Some liberals are also eyeing another form of protest during the speech: When Trump walks down the center aisle of the House chamber on the way to the dais, they’re hoping no Democrats scramble to get in the picture for the traditional handshake.
“We have to have a higher standard,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said.
“For sure I will not be nearby,” Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) echoed. Trump’s campaign rhetoric was combative from the very start, and he’s brought that approach with him to the White House. Most recently, he temporarily banned all refugees from entering the U.S. — and Syrian refugees idefinitely — as well as immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. The move sparked an outcry from Democrats and human rights groups, and drew thousands of protestors to airports and streets across the country.
It’s that spirit of protest the Democrats are hoping to sustain as Trump prepares for his speech to Congress.
“Instead of celebrating the very diversity that makes our country a beacon of inclusion and equality, he has chosen to vilify, bully and alienate women, immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, and people of differing faiths,” the Democrats wrote in their letter.