When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced last week that Stacey Abrams would deliver the official Democratic rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union Address, he said that the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate “offers a welcome, stark contrast to President Trump’s politics of division and lack of leadership.”
He was proven right Tuesday night.
Trump’s second State of the Union wasn’t much more than a slightly polished version of his campaign rallies, rife with the usual fear-mongering over immigration and accusations that Democrats are un-American for disagreeing with him. The rebuttal from Abrams was anything but a hollow call for unity. The longtime Georgia lawmaker drew on her own experience to drive home a need to reach across the aisle in the name what she sees as non-negotiable American values.
“For seven years, I led the Democratic Party in the Georgia House of Representatives,” said Abrams, who became the first person to deliver an official rebuttal to the State of the Union who did not hold federal office. “I didn’t always agree with the Republican Speaker or Governor, but I understood that our constituents didn’t care about our political parties — they cared about their lives. So, when we had to negotiate criminal justice reform or transportation or foster care improvements, the leaders of our state didn’t shut down — we came together. And we kept our word. It should be no different in our nation’s capital. We may come from different sides of the political aisle; but, our joint commitment to the ideals of this nation cannot be negotiable.”
Though Abrams preached unity, she wasn’t afraid to go after Trump and Republicans in Congress, particularly in the context of the historic government shutdown that deprived 800,000 federal workers of their paychecks for over a month. “Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers,” said Abrams. “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. 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.”
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) February 6, 2019
After Abrams was announced as the Democratic speaker last week, Trump seemed to approve of the pick while speaking with reporters. “I respect her. I don’t know her, I haven’t met her, but I hope she does a good job,” the president said. Trump was a vocal supporter of Republican Brian Kemp’s campaign against Abrams in last year’s Georgia gubernatorial race. Kemp, who served as the Georgia’s secretary of state during the campaign, engaged in multi-faceted voter suppression campaign that helped propel him to victory. On Tuesday, Abrams made sure to address the issue of voter suppression, which extends far beyond Georgia.
“This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country,” she said. “We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a power grab. Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risk their lives to defend. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders — not where politicians pick their voters.”
Abrams: “Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real. We can no longer ignore these threats to democracy”
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) February 6, 2019
Though Abrams lost to Kemp in November, she vowed to keep fighting for Democratic ideals, and party leaders hope she will try to unseat Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) in 2020. Regardless, the decision to give her the floor following Trump’s address is a sign national Democrats want her to play a major role in shaping the party identity as Trump’s first term enters its latter half. She took up the mantle on Tuesday, calling for action on climate change, accessible health care, income inequality and racism. “We must hold everyone from the very highest offices to our own families accountable for racist words and deeds — and call racism what it is. Wrong.”