Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib did not stand while President Donald Trump honored a black World War II fighter pilot during the State of the Union address.
At one point in his Tuesday night speech, Trump recognized Charles McGee, a 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman, and his great-grandson, Iain, 13, an aspiring Space Force cadet.
“Sitting beside Iain tonight is his greatest hero of them all. Charles McGee was born in Cleveland, Ohio, one century ago,” Trump said. “Charles is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, the first black fighter pilots, and he also happens to be Iain’s great-grandfather.”
The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black pilots who were trained in segregated units and fought in World War II. Lionized in several dramatic films, their name is derived from the fact that they were recruited from Tuskegee University in Alabama.
Most of the lawmakers who attended the State of the Union address gave McGee a standing ovation as he rose and saluted the commander in chief. But Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, remained conspicuously seated.
Political reporter Ben Jacobs noted the pair’s behavior on Twitter in real time.
A small cluster of Democrats including Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Mark Pocan don't stand for Charles McGee, the former Tuskegee Airman introduced by Trump
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) February 5, 2020
Charlie Kirk, founder of conservative campus group Turning Point USA, later called it “the sickest thing to happen all night.”
The sickest thing to happen all night:
Rashida Tlaib & Ilhan Omar refused to stand and clap for a 100 year old Tuskegee Airman, Charles McGee, a true American hero
I don’t care how much you hate the president
These women should be ashamed of themselves
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) February 5, 2020
Omar and Tlaib were the only two members of the “squad” of progressive first-term congresswomen in the crowd . The other two, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, had publicly declared, along with at least six other Democrats, that they would boycott.
However, Omar and Tlaib still managed to draw attention, and conservative backlash, to themselves starting even before the joint session of Congress convened.
Tlaib announced on Twitter shortly before the event that she would be wearing a traditional Palestinian outfit as her own form of protest. Omar, who joined Tlaib as the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, added that she would be similarly clad in customary garb from her native Somalia.
"There is no right or wrong way to protest." —@ayannapressley
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) February 4, 2020
According to the Red State blog, during Trump’s speech, Tlaib and Omar stayed seated not just during McGee’s acknowledgement, but also for a series of other moments of American greatness. Those included Trump surprising a fourth-grade girl from Philadelphia with a scholarship and touting the killing of Islamist militants Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State.
Tlaib later stormed out of the House of Representatives while the president was speaking, saying she was “triggered” by his remarks. In announcing her act of protest on Twitter, she said Trump’s speech was “beneath the dignity of the dignity of the office he occupies.”
I walked out of that speech. The lies, the bigotry, and the shameless bragging about taking away food stamps that people depend on to live—it was all beneath the dignity of the office he occupies. Shame on this forever impeached president.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) February 5, 2020
Shortly thereafter, Omar left her seat and joined Tlaib outside for a selfie, which the Minnesotan posted to Twitter.
“This is what America looks like,” she said.
This is what America looks like ✌🏽 pic.twitter.com/4NCDdxJsql
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 5, 2020
In a subsequent interview on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Tlaib explained that the “tipping point” for her was when Trump mentioned Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch as examples of his administration’s success in confirming federal judges.
“I think, you know, even the mention of Brett Kavanaugh for me is a trigger, just as a woman in America,” she said. “The fact that he, you know, rightfully was accused and having an incredibly strong woman come before the public and the world and tell her story of sexual assault by this person that was appointed to the Supreme Court is just alone, that — I couldn’t stand still and not do anything about it, and I needed to walk away from that.”