A growing effort by House Democrats to snub Donald Trump’s inauguration has been all but dismissed by their colleagues in the Senate, the latest sign of sharp divisions among Capitol Hill Democrats as they weigh resistance tactics in the Trump era.
Though more than 50 House members — over a quarter of the entire Democratic caucus — plan on skipping Trump’s swearing in ceremony Friday, not one senator would take up their call. In fact, the tactic was largely met with a shrug by Senate Democrats, who nearly all said they’d be going out of respect for the peaceful transfer of power.
“My feelings about the president elect are pretty clear but I think there’s a matter of respect for the office and respect for the constitutional process,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “And absent clear and convincing evidence that he did not win that election legitimately, then I’m going to be there.”
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a vulnerable Democrat up for reelection in 2018, brushed off his House colleagues’ effort, telling reporters at the Capitol that he’d gladly pass along their inauguration tickets to West Virginians who want to attend. Manchin’s quip echoed a refrain from the incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who said Tuesday the Trump team would give away more tickets if Democrats bail.
It’s the second time this month that House Democrats seized on an opportunity to embarrass Trump only to be shunned by their Senate colleagues. On Jan. 6, about half a dozen members mounted a fruitless bid to delay Trump’s Electoral College victory only to fall short when no senators would join them.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of the Democrats who is boycotting the inauguration and attempted to protest Trump’s Electoral College win, said she felt it was important to raise objections to Trump’s election because of intelligence reports that he benefited from Russian interference in the election.
“I’m not going to clap for this president,” she said. Lee said she was unsure why no senators would join the inauguration protest, but she noted that no senators joined a similar boycott of President George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration, after the election was resolved by the Supreme Court. Lee noted that her decision to skip Trump’s inaugural came before the president-elect’s spat with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who labeled Trump’s win illegitimate, earning a Trump Twitter tirade in response.
Allies of Senate Democrats say the more restrained approach in the upper chamber is a reflection of a different mentality. House Democrats are more willing to engage in stunts and theatrics than senators, who pick their spots more carefully, they said.
“It’s different set of constituents. You’re playing on a larger stage,” said Jim Manley, a longtime aide to former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.
Even those senators who protested Trump the loudest and longest during the campaign say they are preparing to watch the 45th president be sworn-in on Friday.
If any Senate Democrat were to defect, Elizabeth Warren might be in the best position to do so. The Massachusetts Democrat is an icon to the liberal left, hails from a safely Democratic state and publicly snubbing Trump on inauguration day could energize her base and pay dividends well into the future.
But even Warren, who got in frequent Twitter spats with the president-elect during the campaign, seems content to play the long game with Trump.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who testified against Trump’s attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, also said he still plans to go, despite Trump’s tirade against Lewis over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
And Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Manchin all confirmed their planned attendance as they headed into a confirmation hearing Tuesday.
Democratic leaders and aides insist they’re not pushing members one way or another, saying this is a personal decision for each lawmaker to make.
“I respect where they’re coming from,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told CNN (D-N.Y.) Tuesday. “I think each person has to make his or her choice on his own but I don’t begrudge those who have said they’re going to boycott.”
But for as much as House and Senate Democrats are taking different tacks to the president-elect, Democratic aides insist it’s not just Trump who triggers the divergent approaches. Housed under the same Capitol dome, the two chambers are vastly different, both in style and approach to legislating.
For example, as the debate over guns roiled Congress during the summer, Senate Democrats responded to Republican refusals to hold a gun control vote by mounting a late night “talk-a-thon.” House Democrats on the other hand commandeered the House floor for a 26-hour protest, chanting, singing and booing Republicans during the daylong standoff.
But there’s still time left for a Senate Democratic defection. Durbin said attending the inauguration hasn’t come up in caucus but that it could after Trump’s attacks against Lewis over the weekend.
“I don’t know of any senator not going. We’ve got some fire breathers on the left as they do on the right,” he said.