Lawson: Attending inauguration is constitutional right
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Partisan difference or just a dislike of Donald Trump might have caused nearly 70 Democrat elected officials to skip the president’s inauguration last week, but north Florida Congressman Al Lawson wasn’t one of them.
Lawson, a Tallahassee resident, said he couldn‘t stay away from the event this past Friday in Washington, D.C., because he felt obligated to be there. The boycott intensified after congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis said he wouldn’t attend.
“I felt it was my constitutional responsibility to participate in the inauguration because; two things. One, it was a transition of power from (Barack) Obama’s administration to Trump’s administration; and I had no one ask me to participate in a boycott.”
Lawson, during a telephone interview, said he was surprised to hear of Lewis’ position. Lewis had said he would attend the inauguration, while he was speaker at a Martin Luther King event that Lawson hosted.
“I think the inauguration is bigger than any president,” Lawson said. “That’s what democracy is all about. I was very pleased that I attended.
“I know that some people said don’t attend; to follow John Lewis, but I’m not a follower. I do what’s best for my constituents and what they sent me up here to do. I had to go represent them at the inauguration.”
Meanwhile, three of Florida’s 12 congressional Democrats skipped the swearing-in of the 45th president.
Congressman Alcee Hastings, Congressman Darren Soto and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson weren’t on hand when Trump took the oath of office this past Friday.
Hastings issued a statement denouncing Trump for everything from his attacks on Lewis to a dust-up with American intelligence agencies over the role of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, in the 2016 election.
“This decision is not a protest of the results of the Electoral College, but rather, an objection to the demagoguery that continues to define the incoming administration,” Hasting said prior to the inauguration. “Trump has made it clear that when given the choice, he stands with Vladimir Putin. I choose to stand with Rep. John Lewis, and every American that expects our president to serve with compassion and humility.”
Soto’s statement — issued over Twitter this week — was moreconcise.
“I have a long history of working across the aisle and will continue to do so in Congress,” Soto wrote. “However, I am deeply disappointed with Donald Trump’s attacks against civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis and will not be attending the inauguration as a result.”
Wilson’s case is a little more complicated. Her goddaughter was getting married in Miami last weekend, and the congresswoman said she “struggled for months to make the choice” of which event to attend.
As for his first few weeks since going through orientation for freshmen lawmakers in Washington, Lawson said he’s been developing relationships across party lines in preparation for dealing with Trump’s plans for dismantling the national health-care system known as Obamacare. Lawson said he expects that to be one of his biggest challenges.
However, Lawson said he doesn’t expect any wholesale changes to happen as a slam-dunk because of the Republican majority in the Congress and the Senate.
“It’s going to cause a lot of ill will to try to get rid of a program that has over 20 million people that are using Obamacare,” he said. “For the first time in their lives they are able to get coverage so it’s going to be the biggest thing that happens up here.”
In part, Lawson said, the argument that has transpired over repealing the healthcare plan is part of a power grab.
“You have Democrats who are in a state of shock,” he said. “You have a lot of people that lost their jobs on (Jan.) 20. There is going to be a lot of change going on.
“The taxpayers are saying the campaign is over now. Why don’t you all work together for the benefit of America. It’s going to be very intense because one of the first items was for the Republicans to set the stage for the repeal of Obamacare.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.