Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has invited President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to a commemoration of the 400thanniversary of the first meeting of representative government in the United States. Northam’s fellow Democrats are now threatening to boycott the event.
On July 30, 1619, the Virginia General Assembly convened for the first time in Jamestown. The Virginia Company, a private company with a royal charter, had appointed Sir George Yeardley as governor of the 12-year-old colony with instructions to bring together a legislative body to create “just Laws for the happy guiding” of the people. The first session had 22 members and enacted eight laws. The Jamestown colony eventually evolved into the colony of Virginia and then the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the General Assembly continued to meet, making it the oldest continuously operating legislative body in the New World.
Last August, Northam invited both Trump and Pelosi to a 400th anniversary celebration on July 30, 2019. The letter to Trump said, “Your presence and remarks on this important anniversary would be most appropriate. By lending your voice and insights, you would continue a tradition that has brought numerous prior Presidents and world leaders, including Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, to Jamestown to reflect on the significance of the place and its major milestones.” Pelosi received a similar letter.
Pelosi declined the invitation within the last two weeks, citing a schedule conflict, but the White House has signaled that Trump may be able to attend. Though the invitation was sent almost a year ago, Virginia Democrats have erupted in outrage over the prospect that the president of the freest country in the world might attend the celebration of its first legislative body.
Statement from House Democratic Leader @EFillerCorn, House Democratic Chair @C_Herring, Senate Democratic Leader @DickSaslaw, and Senate Democratic Chair @SenatorLocke on reports that Donald Trump will attend the commemorative session in Jamestown next week. pic.twitter.com/Mdrud9UH5S— VA House Democrats (@VAHouseDems) July 20, 2019
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe joined in, saying, “Racists and white nationalists have no place in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” insinuating that Trump is himself a racist or white nationalist.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a Republican, called the Democrats’ response “disappointing” and “embarrassing,” noting that President Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican) attended the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in 1907 and President George W. Bush (also a Republican) attended the 400th anniversary of the same in 2007. “Sharing the views of the leader holding an elected office is not a prerequisite for showing respect for the office,” Norment said.
House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert took the opportunity to take a shot at Virginia Democrats, who were embroiled this year in a firestorm over a Northam’s racially-tinged appearances in a resurfaced medical school yearbook. Most Virginia Democrats demanded Northam’s resignation and distanced themselves from him in the wake of the controversy, though many of them have accepted campaign contributions from him in the last few months. “No Democrat has refused to attend the commemoration with Northam, despite insisting there’s no room for racism at this commemoration,” Gilbert said.
The White House still has not confirmed whether Trump will actually attend the event.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore