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Donald Trump

‘This isn’t a game’: Democrats respond to Trump’s Congress speech

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 12:39pm

Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear took a populist tenor in Democrats’ formal response to US President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress on Tuesday, accusing him of planning to “rip affordable health insurance” from Americans and being “Wall Street’s champion”.

Seated at a diner in Lexington, Kentucky, Beshear also assailed Trump for “ignoring serious threats to our national security from Russia, who’s not our friend, while alienating our allies.” Democrats have berated Trump for his repeated warm remarks about Russian President Vladimir Putin while questioning the value of Nato, the long-time Western alliance.

Watch: Democrats respond to Trump’s speech

Beshear’s words and tone seemed a direct Democratic attempt to recapture the loyalties of working-class voters who helped power Trump’s election upset last November. Beshear, 72, wore no jacket or tie and spoke of his upbringing in a family of Baptist preachers that owned a funeral home.

His very selection by Democratic party chiefs to deliver their response seemed aimed at the same goal. While far from nationally known, Beshear, whose eight years as governor ended in 2015, is best known for expanding health care coverage in his deep red state under former president Barack Obama’s health care law.

Trump used his first address to Congress as president to urge lawmakers to kill Obama’s 2010 overhaul and replace it with tax credits, health savings accounts and other elements of a plan being pushed by House GOP leaders. Conservatives have rebelled against the developing GOP package, though leaders say they will push ahead with legislation in March.

“You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it,” Beshear said.

Text of US President Donald Trump's speech to Congress

“This isn’t a game, it’s life and death for people,” Beshear said of the 20 million people who’ve gained coverage under Obama’s law.

Trump’s initial five weeks in office have seen persistent questions about his campaign’s relationship with Russia, a mishandled order barring refugees and the firing of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. There have been massive demonstrations against Trump’s policies in cities around the country, and GOP lawmakers have been greeted at town hall meetings by activists defending Obama’s statute.

Emboldened by the energy of their party’s voters, Democratic lawmakers sat stone-faced during numerous GOP ovations for Trump and flashed other brands of rebelliousness.

Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, boycotted Trump’s speech, and Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, ended his near three-decade streak of snagging an aisle seat to clasp the president’s hand as he enters the House chamber for his speech. The visitors’ galleries were stuffed with immigrants and recipients of health benefits under Obama’s law invited by congressional Democrats and numerous female Democrats wore white to symbolise support for women’s suffrage.

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Beshear said that while Trump campaigned as “a champion for people struggling to make ends meet,” he’s taken executive action as president to roll back consumer protections against giant financial institutions and has stocked his Cabinet with wealthy financial executives.

“That’s not being our champion. That’s being Wall Street’s champion,” Beshear said.

Beshear also criticised Trump’s verbal assaults on intelligence agencies, federal courts, the press and others. By such attacks, Beshear said, Trump is “eroding our democracy.”

Giving the Democrats’ response in Spanish was Astrid Silva, a so-called Dreamer brought to the US illegally as a 4-year-old.

Silva, now 28, said Trump is “criminalising anyone who is different, pitting us against each other, and sending the wrong message to the rest of the world, helping to breed anger and hate from terrorist groups to our country.”