In the final State of the Union address of his first term, President Donald Trump made his case for re-election in November, touting successes on trade and the growing economy, as well as rallying his base and leaving the door open to bipartisan agreements on prescription drug prices and revamping the nation’s infrastructure.
“From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the United States economy -- slashing a record number of job-killing regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts, and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements,” Trump told lawmakers.
Republican members of Congress cheered Trump by chanting “four more years” before he started his speech in the House chamber. He also awarded conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor.
Trump did not mention the fact that the Democratic-led House impeached him in December. The president also did not discuss the fact that the GOP-controlled Senate is expected to acquit him Wednesday after a two-week trial.
But, in a somewhat tense exchange, Trump ignored Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s outstretched hand for the traditional greeting between the speaker and the president. Pelosi, who sat behind Trump as he delivered the speech, ripped up the copy of the speech the president gave her as he finished.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto did not mince words in her reaction to the speech.
“Instead of using the State of the Union as an opportunity to unite the country and bring people together, President Trump delivered more broken promises and lies,” she said in a release.
She took issue with Trump’s promise to preserve protection prohibiting insurance companies from denying care for those with pre-existing conditions and his pledge to protect Medicare and Social Security.
“While the President touted economic growth under his Administration, too many Nevadans are still struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “He has failed to keep his word to working families; he has actively pursued policies that would hurt them. President Trump has also sought to pay for his deficit-exploding tax giveaway to the rich and his ‘virtually impenetrable’ yet windblown border wall on the backs of hardworking Americans. The American people can see past President Trump’s empty words.”
Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen chastised Trump last month for signaling, at the World Economic Forum, that he is open to tackling entitlement programs. He later sought to walk back his comment.
On preserving pre-existing conditions, which Trump said he would protect, lawmakers, including Rep. Dina Titus, were quick to point out that the administration joined a lawsuit, brought by Republican state attorneys general, that could invalidate the Affordable Care Act, the 2009 health care law that established protections for pre-existing conditions.
“President Trump is lying when he says he'll protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Titus said on Twitter. “He spent his first two years in office trying to take health care away from people with pre-existing conditions. He failed and now he's trying to do it through the courts.”
The president’s claims about the economy also follow a report from the Commerce Department last week that the gross domestic product, the total value of all goods and services produced in a year, grew at 2.3 percent in 2019. That is less than the 2.9 percent growth in 2018 and the 2.4 percent gain in 2017, the president’s first year in office.
Although he focused mostly on GOP-baked policies that lack Democratic support, like building a wall on the southern border and a crackdown on immigration, Trump did talk of a willingness to work with Congress on reducing prescription drug prices and on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.
Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford both said they want to work with the president on those issues.
Both cited House passage of sweeping legislation last month that overhauls how prescription drugs are priced by mandating that Medicare directly negotiate the price of up to 250 prescription drugs, including insulin. Negotiation is banned under a 2003 law. The measure, named for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, would also make the negotiated prices available to those with private insurance.
“The House has already passed H.R. 3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act,” Horsford said. “The President must encourage the Senate to do the same.”
The president threatened to veto the bill over a concern that it would discourage innovation. Hopes for the legislation now rest with a bipartisan Senate effort to draft a prescription price bill being led by Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Lee and Horsford invited guests to the speech to highlight their focus on health care.
Lee’s guest, Mary Richard, a 3rd Congressional District resident, has struggled with the $100 a week cost of a prescription for a chronic ear infection.
“Needless to say, this is outrageous and a real hardship for me and for other seniors who pay exorbitant prices on prescription drugs,” Richard said in a release from Lee’s office.
Horsford’s guest was Ruby Duncan, who is a Las Vegas welfare rights and health care advocate. She also talked about her struggles with the cost of health care as she’s gotten older.
“Senior citizens are just trying to survive,” she said in a Horsford release. “I can hardly afford my rent, let alone these other health care bills.”
Infrastructure is also an area that Lee, Horsford and Titus believe could yield a bipartisan agreement.
“I'm hopeful on transportation and Infrastructure, I really am,” Lee said, adding that how to pay for it “is the big question.”
House Democrats last week unveiled a $760 billion infrastructure proposal, though the future of the package is unclear because it did not include any financing options.
While Lee and Horsford sought to highlight health care with their guests, Rosen invited Elko resident and Vietnam veteran Gil Hernandez, who is an advocate with the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Cortez Masto invited Reno Police Chief Jason Soto, who has helped raise awareness of police suicides, which have outstripped line-of-duty deaths.
Titus, for the third year in a row, left her guest seat empty to remember the victims of the 2017 Route 91 Harvest music festival, which was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
This story was updated on Feb. 5 at 8:59 a.m. to indicate that it is the third year in which Rep. Dina Titus has not invited a guest to remember the victims of the Oct. 1 shooting.