Rep. Engel has shaken every president’s hand for 29 years. But he won’t shake Trump's.

Rep. Engel has shaken every president’s hand for 29 years. But he won’t shake Trump's.
Source: AP
Source: AP

For nearly 30 years Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) has been showing up for the president's annual address to Congress as many as 12 hours before it starts just so he can snag seat close enough to shake the commander-in-chief's hand as he enters the House chamber. It's worked out great for Engel: every year, he's guaranteed a little camera time when all the networks zoom in on the president as he enters the hall.

That streak is, mercifully, over. After nearly three decades, Engel now says he would rather break his long-running tradition than shake President Donald Trump's hand.

"I've decided not to stand on the aisle of the House chamber and shake the president's hand," Engel said in a speech on the House floor on Tuesday. 

"The president has attacked the free press by calling it 'the enemy of the people'," he added. "He's rejected America's traditional role welcoming refugees, which have helped to make our country great. He's cozied up to Vladimir Putin, the strongman who attacks our democracy. He's moved to gut the Affordable Care Act and looked the other way when threats against the Jewish community have increased in recent years."

On Tuesday, Trump will give his first ever speech to a joint session of Congress. Every newly-elected president holds a joint session sometime in February that takes the place of the traditional State of the Union speech given by presidents who have spent the previous year in office.

"I've done it every single year I've been in Congress, with Democratic presidents and Republican presidents," Engel told PBS in a 2016 interview. "We have a system, obviously, where we elect presidents and sometimes we vote for the person who wins and sometimes we vote for the person who loses and there's no tanks in the street the next day."

Despite the congressman's commitment bipartisanship and the peaceful transition of power, he says that Trump's election represents something completely different.

"This isn't part of our normal political discourse," Engel said on Tuesday. "This goes beyond ideological and political differences. The president needs to work with all people. Therefore, I will listen to what he has to say today, but I will not greet him and shake his hand."