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Dozens Of Democrats Plan To Skip Trump Inauguration

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

When Donald Trump takes the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Friday, many Democrats in Congress will not be there. More than 50 House members now say they will skip the inauguration in a break with tradition. NPR's Scott Detrow reports that number grew dramatically in recent days thanks to a feud between the president-elect and a civil rights legend.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Some of the Democrats skipping the ceremony are like California Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. They're trying to be very careful in laying out their reasons for staying home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK DESAULNIER: Most Americans aspire to a common sense of decency, even when we disagree. I haven't seen that from the president-elect in any of his capacities.

DETROW: That's not the case for everyone, though. Just listen to what Congressman Kurt Schrader told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KURT SCHRADER: He hasn't proved himself to me at all yet, so I respectfully decline to freeze my ass off out there in the cold for this particular ceremony.

DETROW: Some Democrats skipping the inauguration had made a point to announce the move, while others just told their colleagues. Many more came forward, though, after Georgia Congressman John Lewis told "Meet The Press" this weekend that he doesn't view Trump as a legitimate president.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

JOHN LEWIS: I don't plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I've been in the Congress.

DETROW: It's not unusual for lawmakers from the losing party to skip an inauguration. In fact, Lewis misstated the facts in that interview, as Trump pointed out on Twitter. He had also skipped George W. Bush's 2001 swearing-in. But Trump's decision to attack a civil rights icon elevated the inauguration boycott. Many say they're boycotting out of solidarity with Lewis. Other reasons are being given, too - Trump's tone and demeanor, his vow to repeal Obamacare. Here's Luis Gutierrez of Illinois speaking on the House floor a week ago, before Lewis made his comments.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUIS GUTIERREZ: When the new president denigrates Latinos or Mexicans or immigrants as drug dealers and criminals, I want to be able to say that I did not condone or allow that type of speech to go mainstream. That was not normalized on my watch.

DETROW: Trump's incoming White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, is downplaying the importance of the Democrats' decision. He says Trump would love every member to attend, but if they don't it frees up great seats for other people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN SPICER: I think that when you wake up on Friday and see the enormous crowds that are there, you're going to recognize that it is going to be an inauguration for all Americans.

DETROW: Other members of the Trump transition say the boycott boils down to the fact Democrats just can't accept that they lost in November. Asked about Lewis' claim of illegitimacy on CBS's "Face The Nation," Vice President-elect Mike Pence said the fact is voters elected Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

MIKE PENCE: For someone of his stature not just in the civil rights movement but in voting rights to make a comment that he did not consider Donald Trump to be a legitimate president I think is deeply disappointing.

DETROW: Still, for all the attention the boycott has gotten, most Democratic Party leaders - and, for that matter, most Democrats in Congress - will attend. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently spoke to NPR's Morning Edition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NANCY PELOSI: I will be there. I'll be there for the inauguration, yes. That's my responsibility. The wonderful thing about our country, the peaceful transfer of power - and in this case, from one party to the next.

DETROW: President Obama and Hillary Clinton have both taken pains to endorse that peaceful transition. And they'll both be within camera shot Friday when Trump takes the oath of office and delivers his inaugural address. Scott Detrow, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS ANIMALS SONG, "CANE SHUGA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.