The Denver Post
WASHINGTON — In a bold move of partisanship, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said he will not attend the State of the Union address tonight because he does not agree with President Barack Obama's policies.
The Colorado Springs Republican appears to be a lone wolf in his protest, which he says was inspired by a litany of recent administration moves that angered him, including a decision not to expand the Keystone oil-sands pipeline and several holiday “recess appointments” that Obama made last month while members of Congress were at home.
“There's no job requirement of any kind that a congressman be there,” Lamborn said. “I've been getting more and more of an uneasy feeling as I watched the president revert to campaign mode. He's only out there campaigning. He's not reaching out.”
Lamborn's staffers said Monday that he still respects Obama and that he will either watch the speech on television or parse the speech in an online forum.
It is unclear how the move will reflect on Lamborn, who announced over the weekend that he will run for a fourth congressional term and might have a Republican primary opponent in deeply conservative Colorado Springs. Congress' approval rating is at a dismal 13 percent, and most Americans in polls cite partisanship as one of the biggest problems in Washington.
Beltway observers decried the move as unproductive in efforts to slow partisanship for at least a little while this year before the presidential race and 435 House races kick into high gear.
“Those best equipped to judge Congressman Lamborn's decision to skip the State of the Union are his constituents,” said Sean Gibbons from Third Way, a left-leaning think tank that is promoting a 24-hour partisanship “cooling down” period this week. “For our part, we are disappointed by such a gesture.”
Jonathan Miller, a former Kentucky state treasurer who founded the nonpartisan group No Labels, said Lamborn's decision doesn't reflect the values of most of America.
“I certainly understand there is a minority of folks who want their leaders to reject the olive branch, who want their leaders to turn their backs on the other party,” Miller said. “But I think even most Republicans think the idea of turning their back on the president is objectionable.”
The office of Republican House Speaker John Boehner did not respond to requests for comment about Lamborn's decision.
It's pretty rare to purposefully skip the president's annual address to a joint session of Congress.
In 1998, Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig drew headlines for skipping President Bill Clinton's address. And during the Nixon administration, some memembers of the Congressional Black Caucus sat out his address in 1971 to protest his policies.
Retired Colorado College political scientist Bob Loevy said he thinks Lamborn's decision is wise politically.
“This is a way of sending a strong message to his constituents saying, ‘I have nothing to do with President Obama and his policies,' ” Loevy said. “He's positioning himself as far to the right as he can to stave off anyone even thinking about running against him.”
Colorado's three other Republicans serving in Congress, Reps. Cory Gardner, Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman, all plan to attend the speech and sit with their Democratic colleagues, Reps. Jared Polis, Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette and Sen. Michael Bennet.
Lamborn told The Denver Post earlier this month that he planned to sit with the delegation. But he said his mood has changed in recent weeks.
“It's gotten to the point where I don't want to go to a State of the Union address and lend my presence … to a display of the policies that are ruining our country,” he said.
Lamborn's decision stands in stark contrast to efforts made by another member of Colorado's delegation, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, to bring Republicans and Democrats to sit together — rather than on opposite sides of the chamber.
Udall launched the effort last year, a couple of weeks after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head at a constituent event, and has been pushing the idea again this year. So far, 190 members of Congress have pledged to sit with members of the other political party, No Labels said.
“At a time when Coloradans' frustration with Congress is at an all-time high, I think it's important to look for ways to come together rather than divide ourselves,” Udall said in an e-mail. He will sit with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska tonight. “The State of the Union address is an important moment to hear from the president.”