02.28.17

Comments As President Trump Addresses A Joint Meeting Of Congress

Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Vice Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee,
As President Trump Addresses A Joint Meeting Of Congress

Tuesday Night, Feb. 28, 2017

It’s a long speech, to say so little. Once again, President Trump seems intent not on addressing the entire nation, but his most ardent followers. Another speech, with some gestures toward unity, and another ‘reset.’ Yet nothing seems to change. President Trump needs to respect all of the American people he represents, including those who disagree with him. He needs to work, with at least a hint of humility, to unite our country, and not to further divide it.

No, President Trump did not inherit a ‘mess.’ Unemployment is at 4.6 percent, the economy added more than 15 million private sector jobs in the last six years, and inflation is below 2 percent. In fact, President Trump’s White House is generating chaos, not progress, and certainly not the reform that he promised.

Meanwhile Americans are concerned about losing their health insurance and about losing protections for our clean air and water. Just this week, the Justice Department has begun rolling back the Department’s longstanding defense of Americans’ voting rights.

The Appropriations Committee is where we translate priorities into reality. What we’ve seen so far about the President’s budget priorities is deeply disturbing. We see grossly unbalanced priorities, in which the Pentagon would be given tens of billions of dollars, at the cost of programs that help working Americans, and U.S. taxpayers would be asked to pay tens of billions of dollars more for the border wall that candidate Donald Trump had promised would not come out of taxpayers’ wallets. There even is an indication that the President will propose slashing the State Department’s budget by more than a third. As Defense Secretary Mattis said just a few years ago, if the State Department’s budget is cut, ‘then I need to buy more ammunition.’ As Republicans and Democrats alike have pointed out, such devastating cuts would only weaken our leadership and embolden our adversaries.

It is tempting for leaders to promote and appeal to fear, instead of appealing to the best in us. The American people expect their leaders to respect America’s values and democratic institutions. That includes the First Amendment and the press freedom that is a foundational strength under our Constitution. Americans yearn for leadership that bridges our divisions, tackles our challenges, and advances our opportunities to make life better for hardworking middle class families, and for all Americans.

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