- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

At this rate, there could be more Hollywood celebrities than House Democrats attending Friday’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Roughly 60 House Democrats, or nearly one-third of the 194-member caucus, plan to be elsewhere when Mr. Trump takes the oath of office, citing objections from Russian hacking to his feud with Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

At least two more Democrats — Reps. Janice D. Schakowsky of Illinois and Grace Meng of New York — announced Wednesday that they would hop aboard the boycott wagon in a show of partisan congressional opposition that may be unlike anything else in modern history.

“It seems fairly unprecedented this number of people would boycott and in such a formalized manner,” said Barbara Perry, presidential studies director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

House Democrats know a thing or two about boycotting Republican inaugurals — a handful skipped the 2001 swearing-in of President George W. Bush — but the only event comparable to this year’s exodus in terms of scale is the 1973 inauguration of President Nixon.

Beforehand, Rep. Don Edwards, California Democrat, told The New York Times that 165 lawmakers would shun the ceremony. Far fewer did, but the number of no-shows is subject to debate.

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Several news outlets, including CBS and MSNBC, have reported that 80 lawmakers wound up skipping the 1973 swearing-in, but Senate historian Betty Koed said that boycott fizzled almost entirely.

“[It] never seemed to happen,” Ms. Koed told the McClatchy News Service. “In the end, there was the usual attendance.”

What began as a trickle of absentees swelled into a torrent this week as House Democrats rushed to show their support for Mr. Lewis, a longtime civil rights leader, after he became embroiled in a feud with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Lewis took a jab at the Republican president-elect in a clip released Friday by NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying, “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” prompting Mr. Trump to blast the veteran congressman on Twitter as “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad.”

In the full interview aired Sunday, Mr. Lewis said the swearing-in ceremony would be “the first one I’ve missed since I’ve been in Congress,” prompting Republicans to point out that he also skipped the 2001 inauguration of Mr. Bush.

Mr. Lewis’ office later acknowledged that he also had protested the Bush inauguration, but the mistake prompted another round of criticism from Mr. Trump.

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“How do you forget if you go to an inauguration? I can tell you when I was at the inaugurations. You don’t forget something like that. So he got caught, and it’s pretty bad,” Mr. Trump told “Fox & Friends” in a Tuesday interview. “And it’s making him look bad, frankly.”

Mr. Trump added that he wasn’t worried about the Democratic exodus. “So let’s see what happens,” he said. “As far as other people not going, that’s OK because we need seats so badly.”

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that the Democrats are still welcome to attend, but if they don’t, their chairs won’t go to waste.

“We’d love for every member of Congress to attend, but if they don’t, we’ve got some great seats for others to partake in,” Mr. Spicer said on a press call. “It’s a shame that these folks don’t want to be part of the peaceful transfer of power.”

Even before the squabble, some House Democrats indicated that they would avoid the ceremony, but there is little doubt that the highly publicized feud accelerated the exodus.

Aaron Kall, editor of “I Do Solemnly Swear: Presidential Inaugural Addresses of the Last 40 Years” (2017), chalked up the boycott to “another indication of how divided the country is.”

“The number was about 12 to 14 who weren’t going to attend, and then post-Trump attacking Lewis, that number has escalated to 55 or 60,” said Mr. Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan. “I think that exponential increase is related to the controversy involving Lewis and the people in the House showing support for him.”

Media tallies of the boycott number differ, depending on whether the count includes all Democratic absentees — a few have bowed out citing scheduling conflicts — or just those who are explicitly boycotting the event.

Several House Democrats cited Mr. Lewis in their boycott statements and used the hashtag #StandWithJohnLewis.

“The personal attacks on John Lewis were just the latest example of behavior unbefitting a president,” Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat, said Monday in a statement.

Ms. Meng said she thought long and hard before deciding that “the president-elect must get the message that his antagonistic and divisive comments are unacceptable. We cannot tolerate attacks on women, minorities or a civil rights icon.”

One Democrat taking the opposite tack is Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, who said Wednesday that she plans to attend the inauguration even though she finds Mr. Trump’s policies “repugnant.”

“As a proud Democrat, I want President-elect Trump to see me front and center as he’s sworn in,” said Ms. Moore. “I want him to see exactly what his opposition looks like. When he sees me, I want him to see The Resistance.”

House and Senate Republicans have largely steered clear of the fray. One exception: Rep. Sean P. Duffy, Wisconsin Republican, who told Democrats to “put your big-boy pants, on and let’s start working together.”

“Listen, Democrats lost. Donald Trump won. You might not like him and you may not agree with his agenda, just like we didn’t agree with President Obama’s agenda. But show up,” Mr. Duffy said Tuesday in an interview on CNN. “Be part of the process.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, rejected Democratic criticism of the election — Mr. Trump won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — telling Fox6News in Milwaukee that the Republican “won this election fair and square.”

At the same time, Mr. Ryan reached out to Mr. Lewis, saying he “knows what I think of him, how much I look up to him. I think both men would do better by just getting to know each other, and understanding each other.”

About 800,000 to 900,000 people are expected to attend the Trump inauguration, compared with the 1.8 million who attended Mr. Obama’s record-setting 2009 ceremony but standard for other recent inaugurals.

Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s biggest critics during the primary race, reached out to Mr. Lewis and urged him to attend the inaugural.

“To John Lewis, one of my heroes: Please come to the Inauguration,” Mr. Sasse said in a Friday post on Twitter. “It isn’t about a man. It is a celebration of peaceful transfer of power.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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