Elio Engel is a Democrat in the House, representing New York‘s 16th district. Since his first year in office, he has rushed to get an aisle seat at the State of the Union and other joint sessions of Congress where the president speaks just to make sure he gets to shake his hand. However, President Donald Trump‘s first speech before a joint session of Congress on February 28 will be the first time Engel will avoid the president’s hand.
Engel was first elected to the House in 1988, following a decade in the New York State Assembly. The 70-year-old is married to Patricia Ennis and has three children, Julia, Jonathan and Philip.
Here’s a look at Engel’s career.
1. Engel Has Rushed to Sit at the Aisle for Every State of the Union Since 1989
Engel is more famous for his 29-year streak of sitting along the center aisle in the House Chamber for State of the Unions and Joint Sessions of Congress than anything else he’s done in his long political career. Since 1989, Engel has rushed into the House chamber hours before a president speaks to make sure he gets to shake the Commander in Chief’s hand, no matter what party the president belongs to.
In 1998, Engel still followed through with his ritual, even amidst the Monica Lewinsky scandal surrounding President Bill Clinton at the time.
“My not being on the aisle might indicate that I’m pulling away from him. I’m not,” Engel told the New York Times after Clinton’s State of the Union that year. “I’m sticking with him. I’m proud to call him my friend.”
But in a speech before the State of the Union, Engel announced that he won’t be sitting at the aisle to shake Trump’s hand.
2. Engel Supports a 2-State Solution For Israel-Palestinian Peace
After Trump surprisingly insinuated that he would be open to a one-state solution to reach peace in Israel, Engel quickly reiterated his position that a two-state solution is the best resolution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“In contrast, the alternatives to a two-state solution would mean that Israel would have to choose between its commitment to democracy and the solemn obligation to be a homeland for the Jewish people. The parties must come back to the negotiating table to find a mutually agreed-upon solution,” Engel wrote.
However, Engel was also critical of the Obama Administration’s Israel policies. He said he was “very disappointed” by the U.S.’ decision to abstain from voting against a UN Security Council vote to condemn Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
“This abstention represents a clear departure from convention, and I consider this a break in the Obama administration’s word that they would veto biased or one-sided anti-Israel resolutions,” Engel said in a statement on December 23.
Before the vote, Engel criticized Obama for allowing the vote to take place at all. He called it a “parting shot out the door” by Obama.
3. Engel & Trump Are on the Same Page on Iran
Engel might not like the way Trump has handled domestic policy, but the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is actually on the same page as Trump when it comes to Iran. In a 2015 statement, Engel said he supported negotiating with Iran ,but was not happy with the Iran nuclear deal.
In his statement, Engel wrote:
n my view, Iran is a grave threat to international stability. It is the largest state sponsor of terror in the world and continues to hold American citizens behind bars on bogus charges. Its actions have made a bad situation in a chaotic region worse. Even under the weight of international sanctions, Iran was able to support terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and other violent extremists. Awash in new cash provided by sanctions relief, Iran will be poised to inflict even greater damage to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and our Gulf partners. Iran’s leadership has every interest in shoring up support from hardliners. After all, if a deal goes through, hardliners will need to be placated. We can have no illusions about what Iran will do with its newfound wealth. We can have no doubt about the malevolent intent of a country’s leaders who chant ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ just days after concluding a deal.
When the Trump Administration announced new sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile development, Engel praised the move.
“With the nuclear agreement in place, the United States and our allies need to push back against Iran’s destabilizing behavior around the world,” Engel said in early February.
4. Engel Has Tried to Pass the ‘Flamethrowers? Really? Act,’ Named After an ‘SNL’ Skit
In November 2015, Engel introduced the “Flamethrowers? Really? Act, which was an attempt to criminalize flamethrowers. The goal of the bill was to “treat flamethrowers the same as machine guns.”
The act got its name from a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” bit Seth Myers and Amy Poehler used to do. It was also his reaction when he heard that flamethrowers were unregulated in every state but Maryland and California. The pro-gun control politician decided that needed to chance.
“I’m a big SNL fan. I have very competent people. We thought, gee, it’s perfect. Let’s just do it,” Engel told Bloomberg in January 2016. “We thought ‘Really?’ would make the point.”
Engel thought he could “easily get 50” co-sponsors, but he only managed to get three – all Democrats. And the bill never got past an introduction.
5. Engel Voted for the Iraq War & Said He Regretted His Vote
“I regret it not only because no weapons of mass destruction were found or that there was no connection between al Qaeda and Iraq at that time, even though we were told there was,” There was obviously faulty intelligence. We will never quite know if we were misled or if our intelligence was bad. But one thing is very, very clear to me, that this war has been mishandled from the beginning.”