Top Democrats signaled on Tuesday that President Trump’s State of the Union address did little to convince them that a legislative compromise to construct his proposed border wall is possible, as another potential partial federal government shutdown over the White House’s long-promised project looms.
In his remarks, Trump made no mention of an emergency declaration to fund the wall, which his administration has floated as a possibility. But the president made clear that, one way or the other, the structure will eventually be completed, declaring: “I will build it.”
“I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country,” Trump said, in a speech that variously referred to both “walls” and “barriers” at the border.
“Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” Trump added. “So let’s work together, compromise and reach a deal that will truly make America safe. … This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier –not just a simple concrete wall.”
But with the current temporary spending bill funding portions of the government set to expire Feb. 15, several progressives in Congress — both before and after Trump’s speech — registered sharp disapproval of Trump’s comments. New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, did not applaud even as Trump discussed the need to end human trafficking at the border, and she later compared the event to a “campaign rally.”
“I think that the president was unprepared,” Ocasio-Cortez said later Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC. “I don’t think that he did his homework.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, told Fox News she was “saddened” Trump had not discussed gun violence in his speech, and she condemned what she called his “fearmongering” on illegal immigrants.
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“I’m optimistic about what the appropriators are doing,” Pelosi said, when asked how she felt Trump’s address would impact ongoing bipartisan negotiations in Congress on border wall funding. “The only problem is if he would stand in the way of that path.”
Still, there were moments Tuesday night in which Pelosi appeared to warm to some of Trump’s statements. At one point during the address, Pelosi waived off Democrats who began to groan audibly when Trump mentioned an approaching migrant “caravan” at the border. And the House Speaker applauded briefly when Trump asserted that the U.S. would never become a socialist country, even as many Democrats remained expressionless.
Also speaking to Fox News, Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons called for more substance from the White House.
“There were a number of potentially engaging proposals,” Coons said. Nevertheless, he added, “They lacked details.”
New York Democratic Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand, who has announced she is planning a White House bid, spotlighted her displeasure with the address on social media, tweeting out C-SPAN video of her eye roll reaction GIF and asking for campaign donations.
Gillibrand, once a moderate when she represented upstate New York in Congress, is now one of the most outspoken advocates for eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She admitted in 2009 when she was appointed to the Senate that she would have to change her views because she now represented “the whole state,” rather than a traditionally conservative enclave.
Perhaps most notably, Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate, blamed Trump for the recently concluded partial federal government shutdown in the Democratic Party’s official response to the State of the Union.
The remarks by Abrams, a rising Democratic star who made history Tuesday night as the first African-American woman to deliver a formal State of the Union response, suggested Democrats are confident that any future shutdown can similarly be blamed on the White House — and that compromise may not be necessary.
“Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers,” Abrams said. “They waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope since they hadn’t received a paycheck in weeks. “Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace.”
Abrams continued: “The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the President of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people–but our values.”
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Abrams delivered her speech in the metro Atlanta area, surrounded by Georgia activists, labor leaders, health care professionals, educators, entrepreneurs, voters and her family, after Trump delivers his message. Abrams has said she accepts that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp defeated her in last year’s election, but she has repeatedly suggested he is not the state’s “legitimate” governor — insinuations she repeated again on Tuesday.
“Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real,” Abrams said. “From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy. While I acknowledged the results of the 2018 election here in Georgia – I did not and we cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote.”
In his statement, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Tom Perez implied the White House has lost its moral authority on illegal immigration.
“Separating families does not unify our nation,” Perez said, referring to Trump administration’s increased enforcement of existing immigration law, which resulted in more illegal immigrant parents being detained even though their children could not be similarly incarcerated. “Taking away people’s health care does not unify us. Blocking access to the ballot box does not unify us. Shutting down the government does not unify us. Building walls does not unify us.”
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Separately, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md, charged that Trump had “leaned on falsehoods and fear to obscure the reality of a presidency lacking in leadership and harmful to America’s future.”
Hoyer, who has previously told Fox News that border walls “obviously” can work in some cases, vowed to press ahead with legislation designed to benefit so-called “Dreamers,” or illegal immigrants brought to the country as children.
Trump announced last month that he was prepared to back a three-year extension of protections for 700,000 such immigrants, who were were shielded from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But in exchange, Trump demanded $5.7 billion for border wall and security funding — making the proposal a nonstarter with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called such a wall an “immorality.”
“We will bring forward measures to … protect DREAMers,” Hoyer said Tuesday. Hoyer earlier told Fox News he disagrees with Pelosi that walls are necessarily immoral.
“A wall is — that protects people is not immoral,” Hoyer told Fox News’ Bret Baier in January. “The debate ought to be not on morality or racism.”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman, Chad Pergram, and Jason Donner contributed to this report.