Politics & Government

This may be Congress’ largest boycott of a presidential inauguration in American history

Some House Democrats plan to boycott Trump’s inauguration on Friday, casting the Republican businessman as a threat to democracy.
Some House Democrats plan to boycott Trump’s inauguration on Friday, casting the Republican businessman as a threat to democracy. AP

Citing a bevy of concerns, from Russian hacking to recent comments from the president-elect attacking fellow lawmaker Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, more than 40 House Democrats have announced they will skip President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday in the nation’s capital.

Representatives from California to New Jersey have said they cannot celebrate the incoming Republican president, and many have echoed the civil rights leader Lewis’ stance that Trump is an “illegitimate president” who failed to win the popular vote.

There are 194 Democrats in the 435-member House.

It’s hardly the first protest effort that will target a presidential swearing-in, but it may well be the largest effort from the government’s own legislative branch.

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It’s not that lawmakers haven’t used the inauguration to make a point about the incoming president before. Lewis himself was among the lawmakers who skipped President George W. Bush’s first inauguration, expressing the view that year as well that Bush hadn’t been legitimately elected because he lost the popular vote. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus did attend the ceremony but wore protest pins that read “This ribbon represents the fact that the will of the people was not honored in the 2000 presidential election.”

California Democratic Rep. Don Edwards called for lawmakers to boycott then-President Richard Nixon’s second inauguration in 1973. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 protesters also showed up en masse to speak out against the Vietnam War.

But only a handful of lawmakers skipped Bush’s inaugural ceremonies and Edwards’ call for a boycott of Nixon “never seemed to happen,” said Senate historian Betty Koed. “In the end, there was the usual attendance.”

About 100 lawmakers skip the presidential inauguration every four years, usually due to other commitments or responsibilities in their home states, Koed said.

And though the Senate Historical Office does not track the exact numbers of congresspeople who attend the quadrennial ceremony, Koed also said the office had no record of a boycott comparable to that being proposed for Trump’s inauguration Friday.

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Nor is it just lawmakers demonstrating against Trump’s inauguration Friday — several protests are planned in Washington and around the country throughout inauguration weekend. NPR reports that the expression of First Amendment rights dates at least back to 1853, when a small group demonstrated at President Franklin Pierce’s inaugural ceremony.

The largest and most-well publicized event to protest Trump has been the Women’s March on Washington, an event organizers conceived on Facebook that may now see 200,000 attendees. The march says its goal is to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office.”

“We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear,” the march’s mission statement reads. “In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore.”

Women also took over the capital city around inauguration in 1913, when more than 5,000 women marched to demand voting rights the day before President Woodrow Wilson took office.

Women’s March satellite protests are also being held this weekend in every state and Puerto Rico, according to the organization’s website.

The legislative branch isn’t the only to use inaugurations as a platform for protests. Some presidents have expressed displeasure via their presence at inaugurations, according to the Washington Post. Both John Adams, the nation’s second president, and his son John Quincy, the nation’s fourth, refused to attend the inauguration of their successors. President Herbert Hoover did attend the swearing-in of incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt but gave him the the silent treatment during their automobile ride to the Capitol.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. and Laura Bush and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter will all attend Trump’s inauguration.

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