Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night didn’t include any mention of LGBTQ-specific issues, but it did include a lot of lies and misleading statements about issues that affect all Americans, such as health care, and affect LGBTQ people disproportionately.
The evening was also marked by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tearing up her printed copy of the speech as soon as it was over, and by much rhetoric aimed at Trump’s base.
Among the lies and half-truths, Trump promised to assure that preexisting conditions will always be covered by health insurance and that he will preserve Medicare and Social Security.
But his administration has fought in many ways to weaken the requirement that insurers cover preexisting conditions, which is one of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, passed under President Barack Obama. His Justice Department is also arguing in court that the ACA as a whole should be repealed. And he has said he is open to cuts in Medicare and Social Security. He devoted one line to a mention of HIV, which his administration has promised to eliminate by the end of the decade; it’s far too soon to know if that will be achieved.
The address was full of statements directed at his base, such as a pledge to protect students’ right to pray in school (it isn’t under threat — it’s only organized, mandatory prayer that’s unconstitutional), a shout-out as usual to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, and a promise to keep on fighting “radical Islamic terrorism.” And he boasted of the right-wing judges he has appointed, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump also touted the state of the economy, exaggerating the rise in the stock market and the number of manufacturing companies that have been established under his administration. And he did not acknowledge that the economic recovery began under Obama.
As another sign of economic prosperity, he bragged that 7 people have come off food stamps, as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is known colloquially, under his administration, when in reality, his administration has made it easier to deny the assistance — it’s not that that many people no longer need it.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in the Democratic response to Trump’s speech, noted that bills to raise the minimum wage and finally give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices have been passed by the U.S. House but are stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, “gathering dust on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.” She noted that across the country, Democratic governors are taking action to raise the minimum wage, assure the right to overtime pay, and raise teacher pay.
On health care, she said, “Democrats are trying to make your health care better — Republicans are trying to take it away.”
Trump is under impeachment by the U.S. House, but the Senate, which holds the trial, is expected to acquit him on a largely party-line vote Wednesday. He is accused of abuse of power in pressuring Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter as a condition of receiving U.S. aid.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who sat behind Trump along with Vice President Mike Pence, could be observed shaking her head at some of the president’s most outlandish statements, such as his promise to protect Medicare and Social Security, and his assertion that Democrats want government-sponsored “unlimited health care” for undocumented immigrants.
At the end of the speech, she pointedly tore up her copy of it. Asked about it later by reporters, she said the action was “the courteous thing to do, given the alternative.” Trump had also refused to shake Pelosi’s hand before the address.
Most Republicans stood up to applaud at various points in Trump’s speech, but few Democrats joined. One Democrat who did was Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the Senate’s first bisexual member. She rose to clap for a mention of opportunity zones to create jobs in depressed areas, an issue she has worked on with Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Progressive groups were less than impressed with the speech.
“At tonight’s State of the Union Address, President Trump doubled down on his agenda of hate and division,” said a statement issued by Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer and Legal Director at Lambda Legal. “Filled with blatant lies and race-baiting rhetoric, tonight’s speech must be a call to action for all people who believe in our shared humanity and the right of every person to equal justice and dignity under law. By weaponizing religious liberty arguments, this administration has relentlessly attacked not only the LGBT community, but also women, communities of color, and religious minorities. And by using tonight’s State of the Union to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Rush Limbaugh, President Trump displays his utter disdain for the overwhelming majority of our country who neither look like him nor share his cynical world view.” Limbaugh, who recently announced his cancer diagnosis, has a long record of anti-LGBTQ, racist, and misongynist statements. McGowan also noted Trump’s transgender military ban and his appointment of judges who are “wreaking havoc” on constitutional rights.
“The president, again, has laid down a marker,” she continued. “We at Lambda Legal, again, will do likewise. We will continue to fight this administration in the courts and in partnership with our allies in the U.S. Congress. We will continue our legal battles to overturn the ban on transgender military service and to block the effort to discharge service members living with HIV. We will continue to fight the pernicious effort to invite health care workers to deny care to LGBTQ patients at their most vulnerable moments. And we will continue to work to ensure all the rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage, so long denied, are fully extended to LGBTQ couples and their families.”
Health GAP, an organization for people with HIV, took issue with Trump’s assertion that drug prices have come down for the first time in 51 years, saying it’s a false claim. The organization also blasted his plan to implement Medicaid block grants, which it said will disproportionately affect people with HIV.
“President Trump took a victory lap tonight for his year-old plan to end the domestic HIV epidemic, but his record deserves no praise,” said a statement issued by Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell. “Three years into the job, Trump still has not articulated a plan to end AIDS globally and his administration continues to promote cruel policies that hurt people living with HIV around the world. Meanwhile, Trump’s own domestic policy agenda is at odds with his effort to end the epidemic in the U.S. … His discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ people and against women make it harder to access health care. And people living with HIV are dying in detention centers at the border because they are denied lifesaving medicines and health care.”
People for the American Way President Michael Keegan also released a statement denouncing the address: “Donald Trump’s dishonest and grandiose claims tonight belie the experience of millions of Americans. His remarks make it clearer than ever that he neither understands nor cares how his ill-advised tax cuts have widened the economic gap between working families and the richest of the rich; how his haphazard foreign policy has made us less safe and less respected around the world; how his trade wars have destroyed family farms; and how his blatant racism has led to untold harm and suffering for communities of color. He doesn’t care that his campaign to pack the courts with ultrapartisan judges is eroding voting rights and rights for women, workers, and LGBTQ Americans. He only cares about winning another election and continuing his disastrous presidency for four more years, but we think the American people have had enough and will show him the exit in November.”