New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel announced Tuesday that he will abandon his longstanding tradition of sitting along the aisle in the House Chamber during presidential speeches to Congress, to shake the president’s hand.
Engel has staked out an aisle seat and shaken the president’s hand at every State of the Union Address since 1989, often arriving in the chamber hours early to save one of the coveted positions. But this year, he said, he won’t shake the president’s hand as his objection to Donald Trump goes “beyond ideological and political differences.”
Speaking on the House floor, Engel said that “unfortunately, since January 20, the new administration has shown no interest in working with the Congress on both sides to tackle problems, including Russia’s unlawful interference in last year’s election.
“That’s why I’ve decided not to stand on the aisle of the House chamber to shake the president’s hand during this joint session of Congress, as I have done in the past through Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
“This will be the first time during my 29 years in the house that I have made this decision.”
Engel’s decision may have also been influenced by pressure from his constituents, a group that told HuffPost they have been pressing him for weeks not to stand in the aisle and shake hands with Trump. They even organized a petition on the issue, which garnered more than 200 signatures. It was delivered to Engel’s office on Monday.
The Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee stressed that he has “deep respect for the presidency,” but added, “respect between the branches must be mutual.”
Engel is not the only Democrat planning to be openly confrontational to Trump on Tuesday night at the president’s first address to a Joint Session of Congress. Other lawmakers have announced plans to bring as their guests “Dreamers,” refugees, Muslims and others directly affected by Trump’s controversial policies.
A spokesman for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), another aisle seat veteran, told The Huffington Post she won’t shake Trump’s hand either.