The announcement by Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, sparked immediate outrage among critics who saw it as a slight to Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who was chosen to deliver the official Democratic response to the Tuesday evening address. Abrams, 45, became the first Black woman major-party gubernatorial nominee in the nation when she ran for Georgia governor in 2018 and will make history as the first Black woman to deliver the official rebuttal.
For the past two years, however, Sanders has given his own response to the president’s State of the Union speech and plans on continuing the tradition.
Stacey Abrams is a great choice to deliver the Democratic response,” the congressman, 77, wrote on Twitter. “I’m very much looking forward to her speech. For the third year in a row, following the Democratic rebuttal, I’ll be on Facebook Live, Twitter and YouTube to respond to Trump.”
It wasn’t long before critics began criticizing Sanders for announcing his rebuttal after Sanders was already picked to deliver the official one.
“What? Why try to upstage @staceyabrams?,” CNN political analyst Joan Walsh asked. “Please get a clue @BernieSanders, assuming you’re going to run for president. Or even if you’re not!”
“Bernie Sanders is the epitome of a faux progressive white man,” #BlackPantherChallenge creator Frederick Joseph tweeted. “He claims to want empowerment for people [and] then decides to undermine Stacey Abrams’ #SOTU
with his own. Mind you, she’s the first Black woman to give a SOTU response — and during Black History Month no less.”
“@BernieSanders Senator, this is a bad idea, and it’s a bad look,” said Charlotte Clymer of the Human Rights Campaign. “I say this with respect: don’t do this. Give @StaceyAbrams the stage tomorrow night. All of it.”
Astronomy buff Phil Plait agreed, tweeting, “Please,
@SenSanders – I like many of your ideas, but serially stealing the spotlight from Dem women — especially now an African-American one — is a very, very bad look, *especially* from a progressive.”
Not everyone agreed, however, as Sanders’ supporters noted his response is an informal one and would be delivered AFTER Abrams’ rebuttal.
“Stacey Abrams will be giving the SOTU response in prime time on multiple major TV networks,” writer Natalie Shure wrote. “Bernie Sanders is giving an informal speech on his own Facebook page after she’s done. That doesn’t constitute ‘stealing her thunder’ by any reasonable standard.”
Last year, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III was picked to deliver the official Democratic response while Virginia House Del. Elizabeth Guzman gave the Spanish language response, according to PBS NewsHour. Sanders, along with Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and Black California Rep. Maxine Waters, each gave their own an unofficial response to Trump’s address.