Rep. Eliot Engel of New York said Tuesday that for the first time in nearly three decades he won’t shake the president’s hand before or after his address to a joint session of Congress.
“This will be the first time during my 29 years in the House that I’ve made this decision,” Engel said in a speech from the House floor, noting that he respects the office of the presidency and will still attend President Donald Trump’s address.
“I will listen to what he has to say today,” he added, “but I will not greet him and shake his hand.”
Engel opened his brief remarks saying he has long prided himself on working in bipartisan fashion to get things done for his constituents and all Americans.
“That’s what most people want, a government that grapples with tough issues in a constructive way,” he said. “Unfortunately, since Jan. 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.”
He won’t be alone. Engel is one of many so-called “aisle hogs” who consistently camp out for aisle seats, an opportunity to not only be seen nationally but also a chance to briefly embrace the president.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is reportedly undecided on where she will sit, but, according to a spokesperson, she won’t shake Trump’s hand, either. And Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) told Fox News he doesn’t know where he will sit Tuesday night — but he knows where he won’t.
“I will not take an aisle seat,” he said. Pascrell explained that in the past he secured an aisle seat not for the camera time the spot comes with but to share a quick word with then-President Barack Obama that he otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to say.
“We had a good relationship. And who knows? Maybe in a few years I’ll have that kind of relationship with the sitting president,” he said, adding, “I doubt it.”
Fox News host Bill Hemmer joked at the end of the interview that viewers will see Pascrell in that aisle seat later Tuesday.
Laughing, he shot back, “Don’t bet on it.”