Statement Of Senator Leahy On The President's State Of The Union Address

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, like many of my fellow Americans I listened to the President’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening, and while there are any number of the President’s false or misleading assertions that I could refute, I want to take a minute to highlight just a few.    

The President began his remarks with a focus on cooperation and compromise, calling for unity among both political parties to work together and break what he described as “decades of political stalemate.”  The reality is that Tuesday’s address followed the longest shutdown in our government’s history – a shutdown that resulted from the President’s stubborn refusal to work with Congress – and was delivered by a President who has made a daily practice of making unfounded, personal attacks against Democrats and anyone else who opposes his xenophobic, ill-conceived policies.

The President went on to call on Congress to make needed commitments to “defeat AIDS in America and beyond.”  Who doesn’t support that? The problem is that his administration proposed a $1 billion cut in fiscal year 2018 and a $1.2 billion cut in fiscal year 2019 to combat HIV/AIDS around the world.  This is typical of this White House.  The President makes outlandish claims, whether in ignorance or reckless disregard for the truth, in a transparent attempt to appear to care about solving problems his administration is working to exacerbate. 

Funding for these programs has been restored by Congress – not in partnership, but rather in spite of, the White House.  Many members of Congress, myself included, are waiting for the President’s upcoming budget request for fiscal year 2020, to see if his professed support for HIV/AIDS programs will be backed up with the necessary funding.

The President also mentioned a new “government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.”  That is a laudable goal that Republicans and Democrats have been supporting for years.  But the reality is that this Administration has repeatedly cut funding for family planning and other health programs that directly contribute to women’s health and economic prosperity, as well as funding to combat gender-based violence and to support UN agencies focused on women’s health, economic empowerment, and human rights.

The President stated that our country has “a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.”  There is nothing remotely moral about forcibly and needlessly separating young children from their parents at our border, and not even caring enough to keep a record of their whereabouts so they can be reunited with their parents.  The President stated that he wants legal immigrants “to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever.”  Is he even aware that his administration has slashed the refugee admissions cap from 110,000 per year down to 30,000, a record low for our country?

The President recalled the countless Americans, like the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago, whose selfless sacrifices helped freedom triumph over fascism and solidified our Nation’s place as the world’s only superpower.  He challenged us not to squander what we have inherited from “the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before.”  The irony of that message isn’t lost on those of us who have worked, if sometimes unsuccessfully, to mitigate the impact of the President’s relentless efforts to undermine the international order that those Americans strived to create to protect global peace and security for future generations. 

The President routinely injects uncertainty into our support for NATO, has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal despite Iran’s compliance as confirmed by his own administration, removed the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, the Global Migration Compact, the UN Human Rights Council, and has otherwise threatened or taken steps to walk away from numerous multilateral commitments that provide the United States with a platform for global leadership.  Without U.S. engagement in these arenas our adversaries are unchecked to pursue their own interests, which are often at odds with ours. 

The President should heed his own words.  The American soldiers at Normandy were not answering a call to unilateralism or isolationism.  President Roosevelt, four years earlier, cautioned the country against those who “believe that we can save our own skins by shutting our eyes to the fate of other nations.”  Addressing the threat of the Axis powers he stated, “I make the direct statement to the American people that there is far less chance of the United States getting into war if we do all we can now to support the nations defending themselves against attack.”  Now, as then, we must do everything in our power to strengthen global alliances and confront threats to peace and stability head on.  International diplomacy should be a tool of first resort, not a casualty of domestic politics.  The President declares that his actions advance U.S. national security interests, but we know better.

These are but a few examples of how the President’s lofty rhetoric on Tuesday bore no factual relationship to the actions of his administration.  The American people deserve to know the truth, not to be misled by the President of the United States.   

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