By JULIA LERNER, JULIA KARRON, JAROD GOLUB, ABBY WALLISCH and HANNAH YASHAROFF
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers pushed back against President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in his first State of the Union address, calling for action and not just what they said were hollow promises on immigration and healthcare reform.
Many Maryland Democrats said the president’s speech did little to address or elaborate on real issues, and was instead an hour-and-a-half-long attempt to unify Democrats and Republicans. Most Democrats agreed: it didn’t work.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a statement he was willing to work on bipartisan legislation this year, but that “if (Trump) refuses to change his ways, we will fight him tooth and nail.”
“The first year of the Trump Administration has been one of the most significant tests of our democracy in our lifetime,” the senator said. “The American people deserve a leader who spends less time patting his own back and more time having their backs. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen from President Trump has been anything but real leadership.”
The address was “full of big, dramatic theatrical gestures,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, said in a Facebook live video following the president’s address. “It was very light on policy substance and completely devoid of content when it comes to meaningful bipartisan action.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, agreed, stating Trump’s words “aren’t just empty promises, they are obvious falsehoods.” Cummings said in a statement that he could not attend the address in person because he is recovering from surgeries on his knee.
“As I watched President Trump last night try to claim with a straight face that he wants to work in a bipartisan way to lower drug prices, I was stunned by the complete and utter disconnect between his words and reality,” Cummings said.
But Rep. Andy Harris, of Cockeysville, the only Republican congressman from Maryland, concurred with the majority of Trump’s talking points.
“The president had to outline the accomplishments of the first year — they’re tremendous accomplishments,” Harris said, adding the president has done a great job “delivering on his promises.”
However, Harris did not support all of the president’s address — he said he will not support an immigration plan that offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers.
“If you want American citizenship, you get in line behind all the people who have been trying to do it legally for years,” Harris told Baltimore’s WBAL NewsRadio in an interview.
But across the party aisle, most of Trump’s message fell flat.
“The president spoke of building a ‘safe, strong and proud America,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a statement.
“Neither his words (during the address) nor his actions over the past year are accomplishing any of those goals,” Hoyer added. “He has made Americans less safe, less strong and less proud.”
“The good part of the State of the Union was recognizing all those wonderful Americans,” Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac, told reporters Wednesday. The Trumps’ guests included a number of servicemen and women, emergency responders and federal agents.
But Delaney said sections of the president’s speech “talked about an America that a lot of us don’t recognize.”
The president’s four-pillar immigration plan “is dark and kind of dystopian,” Delaney said. The plan includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, eliminating the visa lottery system, building a wall between the United States and Mexico and ending “chain migration” – also known as family reunification.
Democrats around the country agreed: Trump’s understanding of the visa program is misguided and dangerous. Republicans are “trying to attack other basic pillars of our immigration system, including the ability of families to reunify,” Raskin said.
Earlier this year, Trump and the Department of Homeland Security announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) protections for Salvadorans are ending. One of Raskin’s guests, Nelsy Umanzor, is a TPS recipient from El Salvador who will lose his protected status in 2019, leaving his family in Maryland without him.
“I hope the president saw the faces of the many Dreamers members brought as our guests tonight,” said Hoyer, who brought one, Gabriela Hernandez of Prince George’s County, as his guest.
Hoyer added: “‘Americans love their country,’ the president said in his speech, ‘and they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return.’ Dreamers love this country too, and they deserve action from Congress to end the fear and uncertainty they are facing as a result of a crisis of the president’s own making.”
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Upper Marlboro, said that “President Trump and Republicans now have a choice,” for creating legislation in the upcoming year.
“Work with Democrats to push forward the shared priorities of the American people, or continue with the dysfunctional business-as-usual that is guaranteed to leave more families behind and weaken our country,” Brown said.
“At every turn, Mr. Trump has broken promises to the middle class and made life harder for people in Maryland and across the country,” Van Hollen said. “Should he decide to pursue an agenda that puts working families first – on economic issues, on infrastructure investments, on protecting our Dreamers – Democrats stand ready to work with him.”