U. S. Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-Lithonia, left) and John Lewis (D-Atlanta) talk with the media following a meeting at Hartsfield Jackson International airport on Jan. 25, 2017. Kent D. Johnson/AJC
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

War of words rages as some Ga. Dems plan to skip Trump’s State of the Union

Georgia lawmakers haven’t held back while discussing their plans for President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address on Tuesday – and especially the tactics being employed by their colleagues across the aisle. 

A night of political unity? Not so much. 

At least half of the state’s Democrats plan to boycott Trump’s primetime address to a joint session of Congress. U.S. Reps. John Lewis of Atlanta and Hank Johnson of Lithonia indicated their decisions were in no small part because of Trump’s recent comments comparing Haiti and African countries to primitive latrines. 

“I’m convinced now more than ever before that I shouldn’t attend,” said Lewis, a prominent foe of the president who was one of the first House Democrats to announce he would skip Trump’s speech.

Johnson wrestled longer with his decision. After huddling with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday night, he said he would likely boycott. 

“I think I’ll stay away as my own little private protest,” said Johnson. “My absence will not be well-noted, but on behalf of my constituents I’m feeling like I should take that action on their behalf.” 

“And, quite frankly, it makes me feel a little better,” he added. 

Other Democrats in Congress have announced plans to attend Trump’s speech but to register their opposition in other ways, such as inviting Dreamers as their guests. Some plan to wear black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

Johnson said he may still change his mind, and if he does will wear all black and a traditional African Kente cloth, which many members of the Congressional Black Caucus are planning to don. 

The Democratic protests were met with everything from shrugs to eyerolls to deep criticism from congressional Republicans. But most Georgia GOP lawmakers took care not to call out specific Democratic colleagues by name. 

“Candidly, everyone has to make their own decision, but I think it is extraordinarily disrespectful to, quote, boycott the president,” said U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell. “At the end of the day, President Trump was elected as the president of the United States of America.” 

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a prominent Trump backer, said he was “saddened” by news of the protests. 

“As John Lewis says, things hurt his heart. This one hurts my heart,” he said Monday. 

Not all Georgia Democrats are planning to boycott Trump’s speech.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany, a political moderate, plans to attend and bring a constituent as a guest. A spokesman said Bishop would also plan to wear black in solidarity with victims of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, centrist David Scott, D-Atlanta, has not announced his plans.  

Read more: Georgia lawmakers aim to send political messages at State of the Union

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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...
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