President Donald Trump is expected to give the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 5, a week later than he was supposed to, coming on the heels of the longest shutdown in US history.
The lasting impact of the 35-day shutdown is still unclear, and there is always the horrifying notion that the government could close again if an agreement is not reached on border security by Feb. 15.
Given the harsh opening to 2019 and the Congressional legislative calendar, is there anything Trump could possibly say in his address to give American’s hope and ensure the American people of the health of the country?
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), fondly known as Auntie Maxine, doesn’t think so.
“I don’t even know why he wants to come and give the State of the Union. The State of the Union under him has not been good and he has been divisive. And I think he’s putting us all in harm’s way. And so, he is not worthy of being listened to. I don’t know why anybody would want to pay attention to anything that he has to say,” the Congresswoman, never one to mince words, told ESSENCE on Tuesday night at her second annual Millenial Media Row.
“He lies over and over again like I said 6,000 lies have been documented since he’s been there,” Waters continued. “I just can’t imagine what he’s going to try and say. But since he’s a great liar, he will say anything because he’s capable of saying anything without facts, without research.”
“I’m not looking forward to his State of the Union, and I hope that people will turn the television off,” she added bluntly.
So, is Waters planning to attend the State of the Union next week?
“I don’t think so,” she told ESSENCE.
There were some Democrats who were carefully optimistic, hoping the president will take the chance to unify the country and offer assurances that there will not be another shutdown.
“This president really has to do a better job of unifying people,” Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) told ESSENCE at the event. “We cannot have a government where people who are in office decide that I am only going to work really hard for the people who supported me. And I’m hoping this State of the Union will be an opportunity to do that, to say coming off of the shutdown we’re going to make sure that this never happens again, and I’m going to try really hard to extend my hand across the aisle, to work with people from both sides.”
“The president was talking about a State of the Union address in the middle of a government shutdown. Who would have been paying attention? When people are worried about how they’re going to feed their family that night, or if the next day they’re going to have a roof over their heads, who would have really been paying attention to him standing at a podium talking about things are not as bad as they might appear?,” Rep. Val Demmings (D-Fla.) questioned, before adding, “What I am hoping, and there’s always hope, is that when the president takes the podium on the House floor next week that he will guarantee the American people that he will never shut the govt down again over a policy dispute.”
But even as some Democrats are cautious and hold on to hope, some, like Waters, were a bit more frank in their expectations for the president’s speech.
“One of the things that we’ve got to acknowledge and realize first of is who number 45 is. And it is who he has always been….He’s a con man,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said, emphasizing that some Republicans, like Sen. Marco Rubio, have acknowledged as much. “So when he comes before us with the State of the Union, I’ll only take it at face value and know that it’s part of a con because that’s what he’s done over the last two years that he’s been in office.”
“I expect him to think that he can con America when it comes to this State of the Union and what we will be doing, those of us in the Democratic Party, is putting a check on these statements,” Meeks added.
Despite the difficulties that this class has walked into, the Democrats who hold the majority in the House of Representatives remain excited about their agenda and their hopes for the 116th Congress, which is the most diverse class ever in the United States. The full, diverse agenda includes the critical HR1 – which seeks to restore the Voting Rights Act, end voter suppression and lowering the influence of big money in campaigns.
The Millennial Media Row, which bore the slogan #OurHouseOurTime, was buzzing with Members of the House Democratic Caucus, who remained ready to put in the work for what they believe in.
“I am very excited about the work that’s going to come out of this 116th Congress,” Hayes said. “We’ve seen already legislation that’s being introduced that’s circulating that covers LGBTQ equality, income disparity, pay equity, healthcare, securing and protecting the future of healthcare, and these are things that are really important to the women in this Congress, to our families, to our communities and we are finally at the table in numbers that will make a huge impact.”
And perhaps the shutdown has left them even more determined than ever to push their agenda that has been branded as “for the people.”
“It was horrific that we had a president of the United States that took the hardworking federal employees that we have, the individuals that actually make and keep our government running, and held them hostage for a wall. It is unbelievable that this is our Commander in Chief,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said. “The Democrats are now at the table negotiating border security. That’s what we need. We’ve always wanted that. We do not need a wall. We need to ensure that our border is secure. The president is off track in message, he’s off track in purpose.”
“The fact that the majority is so diverse is very important,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told ESSENCE. “Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power. It was that unified power that helped us fight Donald Trump to end the shutdown of government and to begin a negotiation.”
Pelosi, for her part, remains hopeful that there are some issues on the Democratic agenda that she can work with the president on, such as lowering prescription drug costs and building the infrastructure to increase paychecks, which she said he expressed willingness to collaborate on.
However, shutting down the government again, in her mind, is not part of the equation.
“I hope the president realizes that we cannot shut down the government again,” she said. “The American people have made it clear that that is not a winning strategy for anybody in our country, least of all the 800,000 families who went without a paycheck, many of them minority families, many of them veteran families.”
“I feel confident that we can convince the American people that we are for border security…that’s a responsibility, but as we secure our border we have to protect our values and we cannot do it by hurting people and we don’t have to do it by hurting people,” the Speaker added. “The president was saying that shutting down the government was his leverage in the debate. Well, keeping the government open is our leverage in the debate.”