Rep. Ellison challenges Ryan to bring Muslim guest to SOTU

Rep. Ellison challenges Ryan to bring Muslim guest to SOTU
© Anne Wernikoff

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim American elected to Congress, is challenging Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanCotton: House 'moved a bit too fast' on healthcare Budget chief: 'Powers that be in Washington' won healthcare fight Schumer: Dems 'willing' to work with GOP if they stop 'undermining' ObamaCare MORE (R-Wis.) to invite a Muslim American to be one of his guests at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Ellison noted that Ryan publicly condemned a proposal by GOP presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFundamentals or euphoria? Both fueled post-election stock surge Freedom Caucus founder: GOP health plan did not meet campaign promises Former US envoy: No good military options against North Korea MORE to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks carried out by radical Islamists in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

ADVERTISEMENT
Ryan “spoke out well against Trump’s proposal,” Ellison said in an interview with The Hill, “and this is an opportunity to really drive the point home that there are no Americans who are suspect just based on their religious identity, that all Americans are welcome in the people’s house."

Ellison and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a prominent Jewish lawmaker who heads the Democratic National Committee, sent a letter to their House colleagues last month urging them to bring a Muslim guest to the president’s final State of the Union address.

Doing so would combat the “shocking and alarming rise in hateful rhetoric against one particular minority population in our nation,” the two Democrats wrote.

So far, at least a dozen Democrats have committed to bringing a Muslim guests to the annual address in the House chamber. Ellison had a list of names on his mobile phone that included Reps. Ami BeraAmi BeraIndependent investigation into Russian interference needed House Democrats identify vulnerable incumbents for 2018 cycle Dems bringing young undocumented immigrants to Trump's speech MORE and Judy Chu (Calif.), Suzanne BonamiciSuzanne BonamiciA guide to the committees: House Liberal Dems warn against narrow focus on rural or coastal voters 'Will on the Hill' pokes fun at 2016 election MORE (Ore.), Grace Meng (N.Y.), Dan Kildee (Mich.), Mike Quigley (Ill.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).

Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenFriends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Lawmakers share photos of their dogs in honor of National Puppy Day Franken challenges witness endorsement of Gorsuch MORE (D-Minn.) also responded to the call. He said his guest will be Abdirahman Kahin, a Minneapolis-St. Paul region restaurateur and a member of the Twin Cities' Muslim community.

Every member of Congress can bring one guest to the State of the Union address. They often are local constituents but sometimes are designed to make a political statement.

Then-Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) was a big hit in 2014 when he brought “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson. Robertson’s father was suspended from the A&E show after making anti-gay and racial remarks.

In his new leadership role, Ryan will be able to invite numerous guests to sit in the Speaker’s box during the State of the Union. His spokeswoman declined to respond to Ellison’s challenge and said the Speaker will unveil his list of invitees on Monday.

After Trump called for banning Muslim immigrants, Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), the only other Muslim member of Congress, received a death threat. Ellison said the message to both Democratic and GOP colleagues is simple: “These Americans are welcome to join us in one of the most important events at one of the most important buildings in the country."

“Inviting them to the State of the Union speech in the Capitol is a signal of our regard for the importance of all Americans, particularly some who have been persecuted for their religion,” Ellison said in the interview, just off the House floor. “I wish somebody would have done the same thing when Japanese citizens were being persecuted, when Jewish citizens were being victims of discrimination and Catholics in 1960.

“We need more leaders speaking up for minority groups who have been marginalized and attacked.”

This story was updated at 2:22 p.m.