JAMESTOWN — The newest member of the House of Delegates stood and shouted in protest during President Donald Trump’s speech about the birth of representative democracy, a breach of protocol that Republican leaders said violated House rules and fellow Democrats defended as free speech.
Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax, was escorted by Capitol Police out of the ceremony commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Virginia General Assembly, carrying a handmade sign that said, among other things, “Deport Hate.”
House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, chairman of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, expressed disappointment over what he called Samirah’s “disrespectful outburst.”
“It was not only inconsistent with common decency, it was also a violation of the rules of the House,” Cox said in a statement.
The speaker’s office said there has been no discussion of potential consequences of allegedly violating the rules of a House narrowly controlled by a 51-48 Republican majority with elections for all assembly seats looming in November.
“I didn’t disrupt the peace, I spoke my mind, I walked out peacefully,” Samirah said in an interview after the ceremony.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, co-chair of the commemorative event with Cox, said Samirah’s protest was possible only because he was invited to the event as a member of the House.
“Don’t abuse the privileges of your office,” Norment said.
However, the majority leader, who presides over a 21-19 Republican advantage in the Senate, expressed relief that Trump wasn’t the one making unexpected news.
“Thank God, the president stayed on script!” Norment said.
The protest drew mixed reactions from elected Democrats, some of whom remained in Richmond for a protest at the site of Lumpkin’s Jail.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful who has been battling what he says are false accusations of sexual assault, said the protest was consistent with the representative democracy established here in 1619.
“It’s not for me to approve or disapprove. ... People have had to find ways to make their voices heard,” Fairfax said.
On Twitter, Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, expressed support for Samirah. “Not just a protester, that’s my friend and fellow lawmaker... . And I’m proud of him,” Carter tweeted.
Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who vacated the House seat that Samirah filled in a special election in March, said, “He was exercising his right to free speech.”
Boysko, dressed in white with a colorful scarf from the 2017 Women’s March on Washington after Trump’s election, said she attended the ceremony to celebrate the 400th birthday of the representative democracy in the Western hemisphere.
“I showed up,” she said. “I think it’s important to show up.”
But U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd, elected in November as part of a second Democratic electoral wave in response to Trump, said she was “quite shocked” by Samirah’s protest.
“I thought it was very inappropriate for him to do something like that,” Luria said. “I would have liked to see a little more decorum.”
Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, a former state trooper who will retire in January, confronted Samirah while the delegate was sitting for a news interview.
“You’re an embarrassment to this body,” Carrico told Samirah. “You should have stayed at home!”
In a separate interview, the senator said, “This was no place for a member of the General Assembly to stand up and protest. What he did was just provoke more people to anger than he did for anything to promote his cause.”
The incident prompted chants of “Trump, Trump” during a speech that otherwise drew respectful applause.
Samirah, who is a Palestinian American, said he was prompted to protest in response to Trump’s attacks on four Democratic congresswomen, whom the president suggested “go back” to their countries, even though only one was born outside of the United States.
“As a Muslim American, as a Palestinian American, I refuse to ... be polite, be nice inside and not protest the President of the United States when he is here in town,” Samirah said.
Asked why he didn’t opt to boycott the event with other Democrats who chose not to attend, he said: “I think everybody has a way of protesting. I think that’s the beauty of democracy.”
Near the Jamestown Settlement where Trump spoke, a crowd of more than 70 protestors held signs that read, “Go Home 45” and, “Make Racism Wrong Again.”
Other Democratic lawmakers protested Trump in different ways. Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, attended Tuesday’s event but walked out during Trump’s speech.
“I didn’t shout, or disrupt the event,” said Levine, one of a dozen Democrats who wore white roses on their jacket lapels as a symbol of protest. “I did it differently from Ibraheem, but I felt that I needed to walk out and I did.”