President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28,  2017. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Image via AP, File)
Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/AP
Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/AP

Georgia lawmakers look to send message at State of the Union

Many Georgia officials are aiming to use President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address on Tuesday as an opportunity to send a message about the current state of American politics. 

Members are each allowed one guest to look on as Trump addresses a joint session of Congress from the House chamber. Several Georgia lawmakers plan to give their plus-ones to local residents who can help them illustrate a political point. 

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has invited Robbie Salemi Jr., who started working for Home Depot 17 years ago as a part-time flooring associate and worked his way up to a managerial position. 

“Robbie’s story illustrates the opportunities that we want to promote for every American by cutting taxes across the board,” said Collins, one of the House GOP’s designated messaging gurus

Citing the recently-passed tax overhaul, the Atlanta-based Home Depot announced last week that it would pay out one-time bonuses of up to $1,000 to its hourly workers.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, plans to bring Army veteran and Effingham County native Winston Hencely as his guest. Hencely was critically injured in Afghanistan in 2016 after a suicide bomber attacked Bagram Airfield. 

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office said the Republican’s guest will be Dunwoody jeweler and former 6th District congressional candidate Bruce LeVell, who headed Trump’s diversity coalition. And Monroe Republican Jody Hice has invited former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, a pal from his conservative talk radio days, as his plus-one. (Cain and the AJC share the same corporate parent company.) 

Boycott planned

Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, meanwhile, is looking to send a different type of message on Tuesday. 

He is one of a handful of Democratic members who have announced plans to boycott Trump’s speech altogether. 

“I’m convinced now more than ever before that I shouldn’t attend,” Lewis told the AJC last week, referring to Trump’s vulgar comments about immigrants from Africa and Haiti. 

A political foil to Trump who has tangled with the president since before his inauguration, Lewis skipped Trump’s swearing-in and first address to Congress. He also cancelled a planned trip to the ribbon-cutting of a new civil rights museum in Mississippi last month after the president RSVPed. 

“I don’t want to be associated with him,” Lewis said last week. 

Other Democrats in Congress have announced plans to attend Trump’s speech but to protest in other ways, such as inviting Dreamers as their guests to register their opposition to president’s immigration policies. Some plan to wear black in honor of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, echoing similar displays at Hollywood awards shows.

Georgia’s other Democratic lawmakers appear to be taking a different tack from Lewis. 

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany, a moderate, plans to attend and bring a constituent as a guest. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, perhaps the state’s most liberal Democrat, said the Lithonia resident has yet to make up his mind about whether to attend the speech. 

Other Georgia Republicans are opting for more traditional guests. Several invited their spouses or children as their dates. 

Trump’s speech comes at a particularly polarized moment in Washington. The two parties remain at loggerheads over the politically radioactive issue of immigration just over a week after ending a shutdown showdown.

About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...