WASHINGTON (JTA) — For the first time in 29 years, Rep. Eliot Engel did not position himself to shake the president’s hand at a joint meeting of Congress, citing Donald Trump’s slowness to comment on threats to Jews, among other reasons.
‘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,” the Jewish New York Democrat said.
Engel said he respected the institution of the presidency but did not feel that respect reciprocated by Trump.
“He’s rejected America’s traditional role welcoming refugees, which have helped to make our country great,” said Engel, known as a moderate. “He’s looked the other way when threats against the Jewish community have increased.”
Engel’s handshake and brief exchanges with presidents, launched in his first year in Congress in 1989, have become a hallmark of State of the Union watchers.
He usually stakes out a seat on the floor early in the afternoon of a speech, and in recent years has conducted his work from a smartphone.