WASHINGTON – Delivering the Democrats’ response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to describe the difference between the two parties as “pretty simple.”
“Democrats are trying to make your health care better,” Whitmer will say, according to excerpts of her prepare remarks. “Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away.”
Democrats had not been subtle in telegraphing that – on the eve of the conclusion of their unsuccessful effort to remove Trump through impeachment – they would be focusing Tuesday on the issue that helped them take back the House in 2018.
Lawmakers brought more than 80 patients, doctors, and health care advocates from across the country to sit in the spectators’ gallery as Trump spoke.
“Health care. Health care. Health care,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the speech. “The three most important issues for America’s working families.”
Freshman Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas, who will deliver the party’s Spanish language response, is expected to accuse Republicans in her state of refusing to lift a finger to improve access to health care.
Texas is one of the largest states that has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
A pending lawsuit, which Trump supports, aims at undoing Democrats’ landmark 2010 health care law.
Whitmer, 48, is expected to describe her own challenges with the health care system.
Soon after being elected to the state House at age 29, Whitmer got married, had a baby and took care of her dying mother. She had to figure out how to keep nursing her infant, fight the insurance company that refused to pay for chemotherapy for her mother while learning how to do her new job.
“It exposed the harsh realities of our workplaces, our health care system, and our child care system. And it changed me,” Whitmer says in her prepared remarks. “I lost my patience for people who play games instead of solve problems.”
Whitmer pitched Democrats as the party trying to solve problems, whether that’s climate change, gun violence, stagnating wages or crumbling infrastructure.
“During my campaign, people told me to fix the damn roads,” Whitmer said of her 2018 race. “And we, the Democrats, are doing something about it.”
Trump and congressional Democrats have both said fixing infrastructure is a top priority. But neither side wants to say how they would pay for it.
In Michigan, Whitmer’s proposal for a 45-cent gas tax increase was rejected by the Republican-controlled legislature. Whitmer recently announced a $3.5 million borrowing plan that does not require legislative approval.
Whitmer’s 2018 election was seen as an early test of whether Democrats could come back in a state that gave Trump a surprising – though narrow – victory in 2016. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a margin of less than 11,000 votes as part of the sweep of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that earned him the White House.
Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Michigan since 1988.
Besides taking back the governor’s mansion in 2018, Michigan Democrats also kept the Senate seat on the ballot and flipped control of two congressional districts and the secretary of state and attorney general offices. All winning Democrats in those races were women.
Democrats’ choice of two women – Whitmer and Escobar – to deliver the responses to Trump, reflects the party’s female-driven enthusiasm.
As they have before, many Democratic women – including Pelosi – planned to wear white as they listen to Trump.
“This is a sign of women empowerment and unity,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y. said as she walked outside the House chamber. “It is important for everyone, including the president, to understand that we play an important role here in the Congress and elsewhere.”
Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA Today.