RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia lawmakers are sparring after a report that President Donald Trump will attend the 400th anniversary celebration of the first meeting of the state’s legislative body in Jamestown.
Democrats have threatened to boycott the event because they say Trump doesn’t represent their values – a reaction the Republican Senate majority leader calls disappointing and embarrassing.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Friday that Trump will attend the July 30 event, but the White House hasn’t confirmed it to The Associated Press.
The event is commemorating the 400th anniversary of representative government in America with the founding of the House of Burgesses, which was the first representative legislative assembly in America. It is part of a weeklong observance of the state’s colonial past — including the first arrival of African slaves in the former British colonies.
The report sparked statements from lawmakers in both parties. Democrats quipped “send him back,” playing off a chant by a crowd in North Carolina at a Trump rally where he again targeted four minority women Democrats in Congress as being un-American for their political views.
“We will not be attending any part of the commemorative session where Donald Trump is in attendance,” said a statement by the leadership of the Virginia House and Senate Democratic Caucuses. “The current President does not represent the values that we would celebrate at the 400th anniversary of the oldest democratic body in the western world.”
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a Republican, said it’s sad when elected leaders “make partisan concerns paramount in their decisions.” He described the decision by leading Democrats in the state to boycott the event as “disappointing and embarrassing.”
The controversy comes at a time of heightened partisanship this year in Virginia, which is having elections in November in which Democrats have a chance of flipping control of the statehouse. Earlier this month, Republicans adjourned a special session in less than two hours that was called by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, on gun-control measures in response to a shooting in Virginia Beach that killed a dozen people in May.
In February, Northam faced intense pressure to quit after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture but admitted to wearing blackface as a young man.
American Evolution, the organization that is putting the Jamestown commemoration together, released a statement Saturday noting that Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were invited last year by Northam, a Democrat, House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, and Norment.
“Speaker Pelosi’s office declined the invitation within the last two weeks,” the organization’s statement said. “The White House has made no announcement regarding the President’s plans.”