A Dozen Democrats Will Skip Trump’s State of the Union Address

Cohen says president is ‘unworthy of the podium, the position and the power’

Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., left, and Danny Davis, D-Ill., right, will not attend President Donald Trump's State of the Union address. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., left, and Danny Davis, D-Ill., right, will not attend President Donald Trump's State of the Union address. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 29, 2018 at 9:31am

Updated Jan. 30 2:10 p.m. | Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen on Tuesday was the 12th Democratic member of Congress to announce that he would boycott President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

“I’ve spent 38 years in elected public office, helping make government work and speaking out against corruption because I believe, as President John F. Kennedy believed, that politics is an honorable profession,” Cohen said in a statement. “The current President is the antithesis of that sensibility: a man who appears determined to tear government down, harm the most vulnerable, benefit the rich and destroy foundational institutions such as the Department of Justice and the FBI.”

“The President is unworthy of the podium, the position and the power,” he said.

Cohen joins 11 other Democratic House members boycotting the president’s address. Illinois Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis announced Monday they would not attend.

“This is a presidency that has been built on racism, stupidity, and lies, which has already wasted enough of America’s time and I will not waste any more of mine,” Rush said in a statement Monday.

Davis will instead be in Chicago on Tuesday awaiting the Democratic response, delivered by Massachusetts Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, to the president’s remarks, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Reps. John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Frederica S. Wilson, Gregory W. Meeks, Pramila Jayapal, Jan Schakowsky, Barbara Lee, Albio Sires, and Earl Blumenauer are the other Democrats who previously announced they will skip Trump’s speech.

Each of those lawmakers has said Trump’s vulgarity, especially comments deemed hostile to nonwhite people, played a factor in their decision.

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Wilson cited “recent racist and incendiary remarks about Haiti and African nations” as her reason for not attending.

Jayapal said earlier in announcing her plans to skip the speech that the president is “fueling the flames of divisiveness across our country” through “racism and the hatred coming out of the White House.”

Earlier this month, Trump criticized Haiti and called some African nations “shithole countries” in a meeting with lawmakers about immigration.

Sires, a Cuban immigrant, called the episode “disgusting.”

“Trump’s vulgar language is just another example of his disregard for hardworking Americans that come from all walks of life,” he said on Jan. 12. 

The president has vehemently denied claims that he is racist.

“No. I’m not a racist. I’m the least racist person you will ever interview,” Trump told reporters this month.

Other Democratic lawmakers plan to demonstrate at the SOTU address in other ways. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers will wear all black in solidarity with sexual harassment and assault victims.

Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women. He has denied every such allegation against him.

Skipping the State of the Union address, while rare, is not without precedent.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas missed President Barack Obama’s final SOTU speech in January 2016 because he was campaigning for president in New Hampshire.

Cruz’s absence was not a protest, just a scheduling conflict, his campaign spokesman, Rick Tyler, told The Dallas Morning News at the time.

“No disrespect. It just is going to work out this way,” Tyler said.