With Congress and four Supreme Court justices watching, President Donald Trump praised cutting millions of families off of foodstamps and welfare at this year’s State of the Union speech.
To the tune of applause from the Republican side of the aisle and silence, as well as occasional jeering, from the Democratic side of the aisle, the president said that under his presidency, the “economy is the best it has ever been.” He took credit for the US-Mexico Trade Agreement, praising it as “the first major trade deal in many years to earn the strong backing of America’s labor unions.”
For two new members of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, there were two very different versions of the State of the Union.
Both Rep. Pete Stauber of the Eighth District and Angie Craig of the Second District have emphasized bipartisanship during their short tenures, working together to find common ground on issues like pushing to fully fund special education services in schools. But depending on which freshman you spoke with, the speech was either a bipartisan show of good faith or a deeply partisan diatribe that’s bad for the country.
“There’s times when one group will stand and the other is not, but that’s just the policy differences. Like I said, commonalities far outweigh our differences,” Stauber said outside the House chaber, after the speech concluded.
Stauber, along with Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota’s Third District, was wearing a purple tie. Both are members of the 48-person Problem Solvers Caucus, who wore purple to signal that they aim to rise above partisanship.
“The president talked about policies that are moving the country forward in many ways. And he certainly showed a distinction in policies,” Stauber said. “I think the optimism is high and and as the president said: Our best days are yet to come. And I truly believe that. And that transcends across party lines.”
He pointed to the a visible bipartisan consensus when it came to supporting Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. has recognized as the interim Venezuelan president, despite Nicolás Maduro currently holding office. Only a few members have spoken out against U.S. intervention in Venezuela, most vocally Rep. Ilhan Omar, who does not defend Maduro, but believes U.S. involvement cannot supersede the Venezuelan constitution.
“Both political parties understand that Venezuela was a very great and good country. Socialism takes over and now look at it, it’s devastated. Socialism promises prosperity and it’s delivered very poorly,” Stauber said (Guaidó, who was present as a guest of Trump for the speech, is notably a socialist backed by the Council of the Socialist International).
But where Stauber saw a speech filled with opportunity to work together, Craig saw a speech that pushed back against the ability of congress to get things done for her district.
“He literally gave Rush Limbaugh a medal during the middle of a State of the Union speech,” Craig said. She added that if there was live fact checking the speech, it would have “been problematic for the president.”
Craig said that she found it ironic that the president talked about protecting pre-existing conditions, while also working to throw out the Affordable Care Act, which does exactly that.
“Everything we’re fighting to protect, the president is taking credit for it,” she said. “The same time, his administration is arguing that the whole thing should be thrown out.”
She also said that the speech was laden with explicit partisanship, rather than any attempt to find bipartisan solutions.
“Eighty percent of the bills that I’ve written and sponsor had bipartisan support,” Craig said. “So in the context of just fighting back the partisanship that we’re seeing, last night was frankly a sad State of the Union.”
The president did suggest Congress pass bills throughout the night, but all of the bills he suggested were sponsored by Republicans. In fact, several had Democratic counterparts that have already passed the House and have been waiting in the Republican lead Senate for a vote.
“I thought it was an incredibly partisan speech last night,” Craig said. “It was difficult because, you know, it was a partisan night and that’s not why I ran for Congress. That’s not what my constituents want from their elected government leaders in this town. And it’s what I’m working to try to change.”