While the results from the Democratic Iowa caucuses were still being reported, and as the Senate was preparing to vote on articles of impeachment, President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16) from El Paso delivered the official Democratic responses to the address, in English and Spanish, respectively.
Economy and Trade
Though disputed by both of the Democrats, Trump began his speech by boasting about the economic successes of the country under his administration, dubbing it the “great American comeback.”
“Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again,” said Trump.
Trump claimed credit for the U.S. becoming “the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world” — something driven largely by the record levels of energy production in Texas.
The president also noted the increase of manufacturers in the country and products being exported.
On trade, he said that he kept his promise to replace NAFTA with a trade agreement based on “fairness and reciprocity” by recently signing the USMCA in its place.
He also said that his strategy to “impose tariffs to confront China’s massive theft of America’s jobs” had worked, citing the first phase of a trade deal he recently agreed to with the communist nation across the Pacific.
“[A]t the same time [as confronting China], we have perhaps the best relationship we’ve ever had with China, including with President Xi,” said Trump.
What the next phase of the trade deal entails was still not clarified.
Foreign Policy and National Security
Other foreign policy issues that Trump touched on included opposing the socialist dictatorship in Venezuela, boasts of eliminating ISIS, ordering the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, standing against the Iranian regime, continuing to call for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and proposing a new Middle East peace plan between Israel and Palestinians.
Immigration and border security was also a long subject of discussion, as Trump touted ending the “catch and release” policy.
“Before I came into office,” said Trump, “if you showed up illegally on our southern border and were arrested, you were simply released and allowed into our country, never to be seen again…. If you come illegally, you will now be promptly removed from our country.”
He also applauded ICE and Border Patrol for their service and called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow victims and their families to sue the so-called “sanctuary cities” that harbor illegal immigrants.
The president also touted the ongoing construction of a more secure border wall, the increase in military spending, and the creation of the U.S. Space Force.
In one of his most politically pointed statements of the night, Trump criticized Democratic lawmakers for supporting the “Medicare for All” plan sponsored by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“One hundred thirty-two lawmakers in this room have endorsed legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our healthcare system, wiping out the private health insurance plans of 180 million very happy Americans,” said Trump. “To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American healthcare.”
Immediately after he said he would sign a bill “dramatically lowering prescription drug prices” as soon as Congress got a bill on his desk, Democratic members of Congress began chanting “H.R. 3” in reference to a drug price-control bill passed by the House.
In several nods to conservatives, Trump highlighted his defense of prayer in public schools, noted his support for the Second Amendment, and asked Congress to ban late-term abortions.
“Whether we are Republican, Democrat, or independent, surely we must all agree that every human life is a sacred gift from God,” said Trump.
Trump called on Congress to support other measures, too, some of which would necessitate a greater expansion of the federal government. These included legislation to create a federal school choice voucher program, requiring paid family leave for “mothers and fathers all across our nation,” and a “highway bill to invest in new roads, bridges, and tunnels all across our land.”
At an unusual moment, Trump also presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who was recently diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
Responses from Democrats
While Whitmer and Escobar provided the official responses to the address from the Democratic Party, perhaps the most emblematic reaction from Trump’s opposition came from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Sitting behind the president during the speech in her official capacity, Pelosi ripped her hard copy of Trump’s address following his conclusion.
After the address, Escobar delivered the official Democratic Spanish response in El Paso.
According to an English translation of the transcript, she contested the president’s claim about the strength of the economy, emphasizing how the national debt has proliferated under the Trump administration.
“[I]nstead of investing in our children’s future and in opportunity, the President has exploded the debt by more than $3 trillion – all to give billion-dollar tax cuts to the wealthiest few,” said Escobar.
She argued that while Democrats want to “combat the climate crisis” and act “to end the gun violence epidemic,” they have been stopped by Republicans.
“Frankly,” said Escobar, “the biggest threat to our safety and security is a President and a Republican-controlled Senate unwilling to take action for our country acting solely in their own interest.”
While Trump did not reference the impeachment proceedings — just as President Clinton had refrained from doing when he was in the same situation in 1999 — the Democratic response from Whitmer acknowledged it plainly.
“As we witness the impeachment process in Washington, there are some things each of us, no matter our party, should demand. The truth matters. Facts matter. And no one should be above the law,” said Whitmer.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.