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Let Us Fight Together for Economic, Social, Racial and Environmental Justice, Not Unbridled Greed

If Trump truly wants to govern in a bi-partisan manner, let's take a look at what the overwhelming majority of the American people want

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) looks at his notes as he watches the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump's second State of the Union address was postponed one week due to the partial government shutdown. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The following is the response, as prepared for delivery, to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address delivered on Tuesday February 5, 2019.

Let me thank all of you for joining me tonight for a brief response to President Trump’s State of the Union address. And let me thank Stacey Abrams for her extremely effective response. Now, we all know why she would have been a wonderful Governor of Georgia.

I know that this will probably not shock you, but not everything President Trump said tonight was true or accurate.

Tonight and on numerous occasions since taking office, Donald Trump has told the American people that the U.S. economy is “the hottest economy anywhere in the world.”

Well, that may be true for the members of his Mar-a-Lago country club where the price of admission has doubled to $200,000. For those folks and for the wealthiest people in our nation, Trump is right. The economy is really booming. In fact, for many of Mr. Trump’s billionaire friends, they have never, ever had it so good.

But for the middle class and working families of this country, the truth is that the economy is not so great.

Over the last year, for example, real inflation accounted for wages for the average American worker is up by all of 1.2 percent - just $9.11 a week. In fact, real wages for that same worker are lower today than they were in 1973. Let me repeat. The average American worker, after adjusting for inflation, is earning less today than he or she did 46 years ago – despite huge increases in productivity. Sadly, millions of American workers today are forced to work 2 or 3 jobs just to pay the bills and to keep their heads above water economically.

In America today, we have more wealth and income inequality than almost any major country on earth and it is more unfair now than at any other time since the gilded age of the 1920s.

Yes, the economy is great for the 3 wealthiest people in America who own more wealth than the bottom half of our country – 160 million people.

Yes, the economy is great for the top 1 percent who now earn 46 percent of all new income in our economy.

Yes, the economy is great for the top 25 hedge fund managers on Wall Street who made nearly twice as much income last year as all 140,000 kindergarten teachers in our country.

Yes, the economy is great for the five richest people in America who have seen their wealth go up by over $100 billion since Trump was elected and for corporations that have announced over $1 trillion in stock buybacks in 2018 alone.

Yes, the economy may be great for these folks, but it is absolutely not booming for the nearly 80 percent of workers who live paycheck to paycheck -- hoping that their child doesn’t get sick, their car doesn’t break down or that they don’t lose their job.

Despite what President Trump says, it is not “a hot economy” when 43 percent of households can't afford to pay for housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone without going into debt. That is not a hot economy.

The economy is not “booming” when about half of Americans 55 years of age and older have no idea how they will live out the last years of their lives with dignity because they have no retirement savings, and that includes 20 percent of seniors trying to survive on incomes of less than $14,000 a year.

It’s not the “strongest” economy “we’ve ever had” when hundreds of thousands of young people are unable to go to college because they can’t afford it and millions more are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt, when over 34 million Americans have no health insurance, when one out of five Americans can’t afford the medicine prescribed by their doctors, and when over 40 million Americans are living in poverty.

This is not an economy we should be proud of when we have the highest childhood poverty rate in the developed world and when life expectancy in the U.S. has actually gone down for the third year in a row.

And, let us never forget that, in America today, millions of our people are working for starvation wages - $8, $9, $10 an hour and here is the simple truth. Nobody can raise a family or pay the rent on these poverty wages.

Tonight, Trump talked about what a great job he has done on trade. But what he forgot to tell you is that the annual trade deficit has gone up by over $100 billion since he became president and our trade deficit with China and Mexico has gone up by tens of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, since Trump was elected corporations have shipped 185,000 American jobs overseas.

President Trump also talked about the need to rebuild our country’s crumbling infrastructure. And he is absolutely right. But the proposal he is bringing forth is dead wrong.

Trump would encourage states to sell our nation’s highways, bridges, and other vital infrastructure to Wall Street, wealthy campaign contributors, even foreign governments. The reality is that Trump’s plan to privatize our nation’s infrastructure is an old idea that has never worked and never will work.

President Trump said tonight “We are born free, and we will stay free.”

Well, I say to President Trump: People are not truly free when they can’t afford healthcare. People are not truly free when they cannot afford to pay for their prescription drugs. People are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are exhausted by working longer hours for lower wages. People are not truly free when they cannot afford a decent place to live. People are not truly free when they cannot feed their families.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968: “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.”

What Dr. King said was true in 1968 when he said it. It is true today and it is absolutely unacceptable.

Tonight Trump, who in less than two years in the White House has seen five aides either plead guilty or be convicted of criminal charges, claimed the strength of the economy was dependent on him being free from necessary oversight and investigations into wrong doing by both his campaign and his administration. The exact opposite is true. America’s strength is based on the rule of law and the fact that no one, not even the president is above it.

Tonight, in terms of crime, Trump talked about a terrible and heinous murder in Reno, Nevada committed by an undocumented immigrant who happens to be Latino. In fact, over the last several years, Trump has talked time and time again about crimes committed by undocumented Latino immigrants.

His demonization of Latinos is racist, it’s wrong and it also happens to be factually inaccurate. Undocumented Latino immigrants commit fewer crimes in America than the general public.

Isn’t it strange, however, that when we talk about terrible crimes committed in the state of Nevada, Trump forgot to mention that, in 2017, a white man named Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and wounded 851 - the deadliest shooting in modern American history.

How come Trump didn’t mention that? If he is concerned about crime how come Trump didn’t mention that? Needless to say, he also didn’t mention the need for common-sense gun safety legislation which would lower the terrible rate of mass shootings in our country.

Tonight, Trump repeated some of the most extreme anti-women attacks coming from the far right. At a time when we see an unprecedented and coordinated attack against a woman’s right to choose, it is incredibly important that we fight to make sure that every woman in this country has the right to control her own body.

Tonight, Donald Trump correctly talked about the need to address the opioid crisis. Well, President Trump, you don’t help people suffering from opioid addiction by writing a budget which calls for a trillion dollar cut to Medicaid. That would be devastating in the fight against opioid addiction.

Now, as important as it is to respond to what President Trump said tonight, it is even more important to discuss what Trump refused to talk about – which happens to include some of the most important issues facing our country and the world.

How can a president of the United States give a State of the Union speech and not mention climate change when the leading scientists of the world tell us that climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and is already causing devastating harm in the United States and in much of the world. Further, they tell us that we have a very short 12 years in order to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy if we are going to have a planet that is healthy and habitable for our kids and grandchildren.

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How can Trump not mention the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all people as a right? How can he ignore the fact that we spend far more per capita on health care than any other country while tens of millions of our fellow Americans are uninsured or under-insured?

How can president Trump not discuss the terrible attacks that we are seeing to undermine the fundamentals of American democracy – which includes the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision which allows billionaires to buy elections?

How can he not talk about governors’ efforts all across this country to suppress the vote and make it harder for poor people or people of color to vote?

How could President Trump not mention the need to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage to a living wage?

How could President Trump not mention the words “Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid” in his state of the union speech when he promised over and over again that he would not cut these programs. Could it be because his budget proposed massive cuts to these programs in direct violation of his campaign pledge?

How can he not talk about the reality that Russia, through cyberwarfare, interfered in our election in 2016, is interfering in democratic elections all over the world, and according to the heads of his own national security agencies, attempted to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections?

How can the President say nothing about Yemen, where the worst humanitarian crisis in the world is currently taking place, brought on by a Saudi-led war that the United States is supporting? Just yesterday, a CNN report detailed how our Saudi and Emirati allies have been giving U.S.-made weapons to Al Qaeda-linked fighters in Yemen, and have also fallen into the hands of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. This war is a disaster, which is why the Senate passed my resolution last December calling on the president to end our support for it, and why colleagues in both the House and Senate re-introduced that legislation last week. Yet the president did not even mention it.

President Trump has stated tonight, and, over and over again in recent weeks, that building a wall on the Mexican border is a national emergency. In fact, he shut down the government and caused enormous pain for some 800,000 federal employees because of his insistence for his wall.

No, Mr. Trump, building a wall is not an emergency.

In terms of immigration in this country, what we need to do is not to waste billions of dollars on a wall, but to finally address the need for comprehensive immigration reform – including a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people.

It is inhumane, and not what America stands for, that tiny children at the border have been torn away from their parents. It is disgraceful that 1.8 million young people, raised in the United States, and who know no other country but the United States, have lost their legal protection under the DACA program because of Trump’s actions. It is heartbreaking that almost 11 million undocumented people living in this country, the overwhelming majority of whom are hard-working and law-abiding, worry every day about being deported and separated from their loved ones.

What a President of the United States is supposed to do is to bring us together – black and white and Latino, Asian American, Native American, men and women, gay and straight, but in an unprecedented way, that is not what this president is doing. In fact, he is trying to divide us up – and that is unacceptable.

Conclusion/Progressive Agenda
Trump said tonight that we should “govern not as two parties, but as one nation.”

I agree. But his agenda of providing tax breaks to billionaires while throwing millions of Americans off of health insurance is the exact opposite of what the American people want.

If Trump truly wants to govern in a bi-partisan manner, let’s take a look at what the overwhelming majority of the American people want:

A Fox News poll conducted last month shows that 70% of Americans support a tax increase on families making over $10 million.
According to Reuters, 70% of the American people, including 52% of Republicans support Medicare for All.

Another poll found that 72% of the American people, including 51% of Republicans want to expand Social Security by increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires.

According to Gallup, 76% of the American people, including large majorities of Republicans and Democrats, want us to spend $1 trillion on an infrastructure plan to create up to 15 million good-paying jobs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that 92% of Americans want Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices. 92%.

That same poll also found that 72% of Americans, including 75 percent of Republicans, want to buy low-cost prescriptions from Canada.

Gallup tells us that 64% of Americans including 51% of Republicans, believe marijuana should be legal. Let us end the disastrous war on drugs.

Quinnipiac tells us that Americans support, by 94-5 percent, requiring background checks for all gun purchases.

CBS has found that 87% of Americans, including 79% of Republicans, want to allow immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to stay in our country.

And according to a July 2018 survey funded by the Koch brothers:

66% of Americans believe “government-paid college tuition” is an “effective solution” to social barriers.

65% of Americans believe that a $15 minimum wage is an “effective solution to low wages.”

69% of Americans believe that we need "more regulation of Wall Street."

And 69% of Americans believe we should be "increasing government assistance for child care."

My fellow Americans: If the overwhelming majority of Americans want us to pass these enormously popular initiatives, why can’t Congress pass them?

The answer is pretty simple.

The monied interests – Wall Street, big drug companies, big health insurance companies, big oil companies, multi-national corporations and the billionaire class -- are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get Congress to do their bidding.

But while they may have the money, we have something that is even more powerful on our side – the people.

If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, let us bring people together to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.

Together, Let us fight for economic, social, racial and environmental justice, not unbridled greed. Thank you all and good night.

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Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders or @BernieSanders

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