The Bay Area’s House delegation, a group of mainly liberal Democrats, is split over how to respond to the first State of the Union address by a president they find extremely objectionable.
One member is skipping next Tuesday’s speech, another has yet to announce whether she will attend the address and several plan to show up, but engage in a form of protest.
East Bay congresswoman Barbara Lee will not attend the speech, deciding even before President Trump’s recently reported remarks disparaging African nations as “shithole countries” that she would protest it, according to her press secretary, Tasion Kwamilele.
Earlier this month Lee said Trump’s disparaging comments were just the latest proof that the White House espouses racist attitudes and ideologies.
Several other members of the House outside of the region plan to boycott the State of the Union because of those reported offensive remarks.
With the event just a day away, South Bay Rep. Zoe Lofgren still has not decided announced whether she’ll sit in House chambers during the president’s speech, according to one of her aides.
Lofgren, a top Democrat on immigration issues, is one of the local members of Congress who was outraged over the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Lofgren and almost every other member of the Bay Area’s House delegation voted against the spending bill that ended the partial federal government shutdown because it did not include a resolution on the status of DACA recipients.
By last week East Bay Rep. Mark DeSaulnier had yet to decide if he would attend. But on Monday he announced that he would bring a sexual assault survivor to the address but walk out of the House chambers before the speech begins as a protest of the president.
“His actions, his behavior toward the rule of law, towards government, towards the democratic process is just the opposite of what I aspire to,” DeSaulnier said.
DeSaulnier invited Master Sergeant Linda Ray, retired U.S. Army Reserves, to the speech. Decades ago Ray was sexually assaulted by a superior in her unit, according to the Congressman’s office.
Last year DeSaulnier has expressed concerns that the White House may have lied to Congress about whether several of Trump’s advisers used their private email addresses to conduct government business.
North Bay congressman Jared Huffman, an outspoken critic of the president, plans to attend the address, but is bringing a guest aimed at protesting Trump’s effort to ban transgender people from the military.
That guest will be Lynda Bengtsson-Davis, a transgender Marine Corps veteran, Huffman’s office announced Thursday.
“I hope to show her the gratitude and respect she should have received from our Commander-in-Chief and to send the message to President Trump that we will never back down in the face of his hateful, divisive actions,” Huffman said in a statement.
Peninsula and San Francisco congresswoman Jackie Speier, Silicon Valley Rep. Anna Eshoo and North Bay Rep. John Garamendi plan on attending the State of the Union, but like several other lawmakers, they plan to use the event to bring attention to the recent national reckoning on sexual misconduct.
Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee investigating the Trump presidential campaign’s ties to Russia, is a longtime advocate for victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, military and, most recently, in Congress. She plans to bring a guest who is a survivor and/or advocate for the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, according to her communication director, Tracy Manzer.
Eshoo and Garamendi plan to wear black in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harassment.
“The appropriate attire is black, and I’ll certainly be properly dressed,” Garamendi said.
Eshoo has fought the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to repeal net neutrality, and Garamendi has questioned some of the administration’s military policies.
Garamendi was, however, the only Bay Area member of Congress to vote in favor of the spending bill that ended the partial federal government shutdown.
San Jose congressman Ro Khanna will attend, but don’t expect him to cheer.
“I don’t plan to clap for the things the president says with which I disagree, or welcome him warmly,” Khanna said in an emailed statement.
“But my job is to be present and also to respond to what he says. I think that’s part of the constitutional duty, and we should make it about vehement opposition to what he says. We shouldn’t give him a platform without response in my view,” Khanna said.
Khanna is one of several local members of Congress critical of the Trump administration’s reported plan for a major immigration enforcement action in Northern California.
House Minority Leader and San Francisco congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and East Bay Reps. Eric Swalwell and Jerry McNerney plan to attend the speech and have not outlined any plans to protest the president at it, according to their aides.
North Bay Congressman Mike Thompson will not be at the address, according to his staff. That’s because Pelosi designated Thompson to be a designated survivor in case of a catastrophic event, his aide, TJ Adams-Falconer, said in an email.
David McCuan, a Sonoma State political science professor, said House members who skip the address as a protest could end up missing out.
“The State of the Union is that really historic moment, and given this president and what’s happened over the last year since he’s been elected, if you’re a member of Congress, you want to be in the room to make history,” McCuan said in an interview.
It’s unclear if the address will include the kind of outburst that took place during President Barack Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress in 2009, when South Carolina Republican congressman Joe Wilson yelled, “You lie”.
“Democrats have a challenge, that is to be on the other side and be protesting with one common message or a common theme,” McCuan said.
“They also want to have a made-for-television moment. They want to capture history. That is not a shoutout. It’s disagreeing with class but making the point … that you have a strong will to move against this president and his policies,” McCuan said.
Word that some Bay Area members of Congress were engaging in some sort of protest at the address was dismissed by Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committee member for California.
“They’re irrelevant. Nobody cares,” Steel said, calling most of the local House members “backbenchers.”
“I see them as insurgency,” he said.
Steel said there were other people who would enjoy attending the address “for one of the most amazing years that we’ve seen in recent presidential history.”
This post includes new information from the offices of Representatives Jared Huffman and Mark DeSalunier about the guests they are bringing to the State of the Union.