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 Davis RyanJuan Williams: Trump fans the flames of white grievance Ex-White House spokesman Raj Shah joins Fox Corporation as senior vice president Trump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report 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 John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' 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.

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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 BeraAmerish (Ami) Babulal BeraOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Cruz pitches Ocasio-Cortez on bill to make birth control available over the counter To protect our health, we must act on climate MORE and Judy Chu (Calif.), Suzanne BonamiciSuzanne Marie BonamiciHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Lawmakers put spotlight on youth homelessness Chaos within the EPA exposes Americans to toxins like asbestos MORE (Ore.), Grace Meng (N.Y.), Dan Kildee (Mich.), Mike Quigley (Ill.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions Al Franken: It's time to start taking Trump 'literally' 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.