Traditionally, the State of the Union address has been an opportunity for the president to lay out his legislative goals for the year. It’s also historically been a bipartisan event, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisles attending. But as with so many things in the era of Trump, this year is shaping up to be a bit different. Reps. John Lewis and Maxine Waters will boycott the State of the Union, along with at least one other lawmaker.
In an interview with MSNBC commentator Joy Reid on Saturday, California congresswoman Maxine Waters was asked whether she would sit out of the president’s State of the Union address, which will take place on Jan. 30. Waters did not hesitate, telling Reid that she would not attend the speech. She said:
Why would I take my time to go and sit and listen to a liar? Someone who lies in the face of facts, someone who can change their tune day in and day out. What does he have to say that I would be interested in?
Waters has long been a vocal opponent of the Trump administration. During Steve Mnuchin’s congressional hearing in August, Water’s exchange with the now-Treasury Secretary went viral. When Mnuchin tried to avoid questioning by heaping praise on the lawmaker, she repeatedly stated that she was “reclaiming [her] time” so that she could reserve it for more serious matters.
By the time that Waters told MSNBC she would not be attending Trump's State of the Union address, Georgia congressman John Lewis had also already decided to boycott the event. Lewis's announcement followed reports that Trump had questioned why the United States was allowing immigrants coming from "sh*thole countries" — places like Haiti and parts of Africa — to come to America. In an interview with MSNBC's Katy Tur, Lewis said:
I cannot in all good conscience be in a room with what he has said about so many Americans. I just cannot do it. I wouldn't be honest with myself.
Lewis, a civil rights activist and one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in 2011. But he has been targeted by Trump, who dismissed the congressman last year as being "All talk, talk, talk" after Lewis told the press that he didn't believe the president was "legitimate."
The president immediately drew criticism for his tweets, which were viewed by many as tone-deaf.
Given the historic tension between the president and Lewis, it's not a huge shock that the Georgia congressman is not planning to attend the 2018 address.
Another congressman, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, announced at the beginning of the month that he would not attend the State of the Union. In a statement, Blumenauer wrote that he would instead be in his home state:
Rather than listening to yet another destructive and divisive speech by Trump...I will be working here at home listening to Oregonians about what they think about the State of the Union.
The last time Trump addressed a joint session of Congress, he drew a considerable amount of praise. After the president expressed his gratitude to the widow of a fallen Navy Seal, CNN commentator Van Jones said that Trump "became president of the United States in that moment, period."
But given the scrutiny Trump is facing a year after taking office, this time around is likely to be different. California Rep. Jackie Speier is encouraging her fellow Democratic lawmakers to wear black to the State of the Union address in order to protest sexual harassment. Given the number of sexual harassment allegations that have been levied against representatives on Capitol Hill this year, many believe it's a timely moment to do so.