“We Have the People”: Bernie Sanders Responds to Trump’s SOTU Speech

The progressive Vermont senator rebukes Trump as a compulsively dishonest bully “trying to divide us up based on the color of our skin, our nation of origin, our religion, our gender, or our sexual orientation.”

Bernie Sanders

Left to right: Sen. Bernie Sanders (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) and President Donald Trump (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).

Imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s State of the Union address, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) respond­ed with his own speech. Here are those remarks, pre­sent­ed in full. 

Good evening. Thanks for join­ing us. 

Tonight, I want to take a few min­utes of your time to respond to Pres­i­dent Trump’s State of the Union speech. But I want to do more than just that. I want to talk to you about the major crises fac­ing our coun­try that, regret­tably, Pres­i­dent Trump chose not to dis­cuss. I want to talk to you about the lies that he told dur­ing his cam­paign and the promis­es he made to work­ing peo­ple which he did not keep. 

Final­ly, I want to offer a vision of where we should go as a nation which is far dif­fer­ent than the divi­sive­ness, dis­hon­esty, and racism com­ing from the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion over the past year.

Pres­i­dent Trump talked tonight about the strength of our econ­o­my. Well, he’s right. Offi­cial unem­ploy­ment today is 4.1 per­cent which is the low­est it has been in years and the stock mar­ket in recent months has soared. That’s the good news. 

But what Pres­i­dent Trump failed to men­tion is that his first year in office marked the low­est lev­el of job cre­ation since 2010. In fact, accord­ing to the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics, 254,000 few­er jobs were cre­at­ed in Trump’s first 11 months in office than were cre­at­ed in the 11 months before he entered office. 

Fur­ther, when we talk about the econ­o­my, what’s most impor­tant is to under­stand what is hap­pen­ing to the aver­age work­er. And here’s the sto­ry that Trump failed to men­tion tonight. 

Over the last year, after adjust­ing for infla­tion, the aver­age work­er in Amer­i­ca saw a wage increase of, are you ready for this, 4 cents an hour, or 0.17%. Or, to put it in a dif­fer­ent way, that work­er received a raise of a lit­tle more than $1.60 a week. And, as is often the case, that tiny wage increase dis­ap­peared as a result of soar­ing health care costs. 

Mean­while, at a time of mas­sive wealth and income inequal­i­ty, the rich con­tin­ue to get much rich­er while mil­lions of Amer­i­can work­ers are work­ing two or three jobs just to keep their heads above water. Since March of last year, the three rich­est peo­ple in Amer­i­ca saw their wealth increase by more than $68 bil­lion. Three peo­ple. A $68 bil­lion increase in wealth. Mean­while, the aver­age work­er saw an increase of 4 cents an hour. 

Tonight, Don­ald Trump tout­ed the bonus­es he claims work­ers received because of his so-called tax reform” bill. What he for­got to men­tion is that only 2% of Amer­i­cans report receiv­ing a raise or a bonus because of this tax bill.

What he also failed to men­tion is that some of the cor­po­ra­tions that have giv­en out bonus­es, such as Wal­mart, AT&T, Gen­er­al Elec­tric, and Pfiz­er, are also lay­ing off tens of thou­sands of their employ­ees. Kim­ber­ly-Clark, the mak­er of Kleenex and Hug­gies, recent­ly said they were using mon­ey from the tax cut to restruc­ture – lay­ing off more than 5,000 work­ers and clos­ing 10 plants.

What Trump also for­got to tell you is that while the Wal­ton fam­i­ly of Wal­mart, the wealth­i­est fam­i­ly in Amer­i­ca, and Jeff Bezos of Ama­zon, the wealth­i­est per­son in this coun­try, have nev­er had it so good, many thou­sands of their employ­ees are forced onto Med­ic­aid, food stamps, and pub­lic hous­ing because of the obscene­ly low wages they are paid. In my view, that’s wrong. The tax­pay­ers of this coun­try should not be pro­vid­ing cor­po­rate wel­fare to the wealth­i­est fam­i­lies in this country.

Now, let me say a few words about some of the issues that Don­ald Trump failed to men­tion tonight, and that is the dif­fer­ence between what he promised the Amer­i­can peo­ple as a can­di­date and what he has deliv­ered as pres­i­dent.

Many of you will recall, that dur­ing his cam­paign, Don­ald Trump told the Amer­i­can peo­ple how he was going to pro­vide health insur­ance for every­body,” with much low­er deductibles.”

That is what he promised work­ing fam­i­lies all across this coun­try dur­ing his cam­paign. But as pres­i­dent he did exact­ly the oppo­site. Last year, he sup­port­ed leg­is­la­tion that would have thrown up to 32 mil­lion peo­ple off of the health care they had while, at the same time, sub­stan­tial­ly rais­ing pre­mi­ums for old­er Amer­i­cans.

The real­i­ty is that although we were able to beat back Trump’s effort to repeal the Afford­able Care Act, 3 mil­lion few­er Amer­i­cans have health insur­ance today than before Trump took office and that num­ber will be going even high­er in the com­ing months.

Dur­ing his cam­paign, Trump promised not to cut Social Secu­ri­ty, Medicare or Med­ic­aid.

As pres­i­dent, how­ev­er, he sup­port­ed a Repub­li­can Bud­get Res­o­lu­tion that pro­posed slash­ing Med­ic­aid by $1 tril­lion and cut­ting Medicare by $500 bil­lion. Fur­ther, Pres­i­dent Trump’s own bud­get called for cut­ting Social Secu­ri­ty Dis­abil­i­ty Insur­ance by $64 bil­lion.

Dur­ing Trump’s cam­paign for pres­i­dent, he talked about how he was going to low­er pre­scrip­tion drug prices and take on the greed of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try which he said was get­ting away with mur­der.” Tonight he said one of my great­est pri­or­i­ties is to reduce the price of pre­scrip­tion drugs.”

But as pres­i­dent, Trump nom­i­nat­ed Alex Azar, a for­mer exec­u­tive of the Eli Lil­ly Com­pa­ny – one of the largest drug com­pa­nies in this coun­try – to head up the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices.

Trump spoke about how in oth­er coun­tries drugs cost far less,” yet he has done noth­ing to allow Amer­i­cans to pur­chase less expen­sive pre­scrip­tion drugs from abroad or to require Medicare to nego­ti­ate drug prices – which he promised he would do when he ran for pres­i­dent.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Don­ald Trump told us that: The rich will not be gain­ing at all” under his tax reform plan.

Well, that was quite a whop­per. As pres­i­dent, the tax reform leg­is­la­tion Trump signed into law a few weeks ago pro­vides 83 per­cent of the ben­e­fits to the top one per­cent, dri­ves up the deficit by $1.7 tril­lion, and rais­es tax­es on 92 mil­lion mid­dle class fam­i­lies by the end of the decade.

Dur­ing his cam­paign for pres­i­dent, Trump talked about how he was going to take on the greed of Wall Street which he said has caused tremen­dous prob­lems for us.

As pres­i­dent, not only has Trump not tak­en on Wall Street, he has appoint­ed more Wall Street bil­lion­aires to his admin­is­tra­tion than any pres­i­dent in his­to­ry. And now, on behalf of Wall Street, he is try­ing to repeal the mod­est pro­vi­sions of the Dodd-Frank leg­is­la­tion which pro­vide con­sumer pro­tec­tions against Wall Street thiev­ery.

But what is also impor­tant to note is not just Trump’s dis­hon­esty. It is that tonight he avoid­ed 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? No, Mr. Trump, cli­mate change is not a hoax.” It is a real­i­ty which is caus­ing dev­as­tat­ing harm all over our coun­try and all over the world and you are dead wrong when you appoint admin­is­tra­tors at the EPA and oth­er agen­cies who are try­ing to dec­i­mate envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion rules, and slow down the tran­si­tion to sus­tain­able ener­gy.

How can a pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States not dis­cuss the dis­as­trous Cit­i­zens Unit­ed Supreme Court deci­sion which allows bil­lion­aires like the Koch broth­ers to under­mine Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy by spend­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to elect can­di­dates who will rep­re­sent the rich and the pow­er­ful?

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

How can he not talk about the fact that in a high­ly com­pet­i­tive glob­al econ­o­my, hun­dreds of thou­sands of bright young peo­ple are unable to afford to go to col­lege, while mil­lions of oth­ers have come out of school deeply in debt?

How can he not talk about the inad­e­quate fund­ing and staffing at the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion which has result­ed in thou­sands of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties dying because they did not get their claims processed in time?

How can he not talk about the retire­ment cri­sis fac­ing the work­ing peo­ple of this coun­try and the fact that over half of old­er work­ers have no retire­ment sav­ings? We need to strength­en pen­sions in this coun­try, not take them away from mil­lions of work­ers.

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 his own CIA direc­tor will like­ly inter­fere in the 2018 midterm elec­tions that we will be hold­ing. How do you not talk about that unless you have a very spe­cial rela­tion­ship with Mr. Putin?

Now, let me say a few words about what Trump did talk about.

Trump talked about DACA and immi­gra­tion, but what he did not tell the Amer­i­can peo­ple is that he pre­cip­i­tat­ed this cri­sis in Sep­tem­ber by repeal­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s exec­u­tive order pro­tect­ing Dream­ers.

We need to seri­ous­ly address the issue of immi­gra­tion but that does not mean divid­ing fam­i­lies and reduc­ing legal immi­gra­tion by 25 – 50 per­cent. It sure doesn’t mean forc­ing tax­pay­ers to spend $25 bil­lion on a wall that can­di­date Trump promised Mex­i­co would pay for. And it def­i­nite­ly doesn’t mean a racist immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy that excludes peo­ple of col­or from around the world.

To my mind, this is one of the great moral issues fac­ing our coun­try. It would be unspeak­able and a moral stain on our nation if we turned our backs on these 800,000 young peo­ple who were born and raised in this coun­try and who know no oth­er home but the Unit­ed States.

And that’s not just Bernie Sanders talk­ing. Poll after poll shows that over 80 per­cent of the Amer­i­can peo­ple believe that we should pro­tect the legal sta­tus of these young peo­ple and pro­vide them with a path toward cit­i­zen­ship.

We need to pass the bi-par­ti­san DREAM Act, and we need to pass it now.

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

Instead of spend­ing $1.5 tril­lion over ten years rebuild­ing our crum­bling infra­struc­ture, Trump would encour­age states to sell our nation’s high­ways, bridges, and oth­er vital infra­struc­ture to Wall Street, wealthy cam­paign con­trib­u­tors, even for­eign gov­ern­ments.

And how would Wall Street and these cor­po­ra­tions recoup their invest­ments? By impos­ing mas­sive new tolls and fees paid for by Amer­i­can com­muters and home­own­ers.

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.

Tonight, Don­ald Trump cor­rect­ly talked about the need to address the opi­oid cri­sis. Well, I say to Don­ald Trump, you don’t help peo­ple suf­fer­ing from opi­oid addic­tion by cut­ting Med­ic­aid by $1 tril­lion. If you are seri­ous about deal­ing with this cri­sis, we need to expand, not cut Med­ic­aid.

My fel­low Amer­i­cans. The sim­ple truth is that, accord­ing to vir­tu­al­ly every poll, Don­ald Trump is the least pop­u­lar pres­i­dent after one year in office of any pres­i­dent in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­to­ry. And the rea­son for that is pret­ty clear. The Amer­i­can peo­ple do not want a pres­i­dent who is com­pul­sive­ly dis­hon­est, who is a bul­ly, who active­ly rep­re­sents the inter­ests of the bil­lion­aire class, who is anti-sci­ence, and who is try­ing to divide us up based on the col­or of our skin, our nation of ori­gin, our reli­gion, our gen­der, or our sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion.

That is not what the Amer­i­can peo­ple want. And that real­i­ty is the bad news that we have to deal with.

But the truth is that there is a lot of good news out there as well. It’s not just that so many of our peo­ple dis­agree with Trump’s poli­cies, tem­pera­ment, and behav­ior. It is that the vast major­i­ty of our peo­ple have a very dif­fer­ent vision for the future of our coun­try than what Trump and the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship are giv­ing us.

In an unprece­dent­ed way, we are wit­ness­ing a revi­tal­iza­tion of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy with more and more peo­ple stand­ing up and fight­ing back. A lit­tle more than a year ago we saw mil­lions of peo­ple take to the streets for the women’s march­es and a few weeks ago, in hun­dreds of cities and towns around the world, peo­ple once again took to the streets in the fight for social, eco­nom­ic, racial and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.

Fur­ther, we are see­ing the growth of grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple from every con­ceiv­able back­ground start­ing to run for office — for school board, city coun­cil, state leg­is­la­ture, the U.S. House and the U.S. Sen­ate.

In fact, we are start­ing to see the begin­ning of a polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion, some­thing long over­due.

And these can­di­dates, from coast to coast, are stand­ing tall for a pro­gres­sive agen­da, an agen­da that works for the work­ing fam­i­lies of our coun­try and not just the bil­lion­aire class. These can­di­dates under­stand that the Unit­ed States has got to join the rest of the indus­tri­al­ized world and guar­an­tee health care to all as a right, not a priv­i­lege, through a Medicare for All, sin­gle-pay­er pro­gram.

They under­stand that at a time of mas­sive income and wealth inequal­i­ty, when the top one-tenth of one per­cent now owns almost as much wealth as the bot­tom 90 per­cent, we should not be giv­ing tax breaks for bil­lion­aires but demand­ing that they start pay­ing their fair share of tax­es.

They know that we need trade poli­cies that ben­e­fit work­ing peo­ple, not large mul­ti-nation­al cor­po­ra­tions.

They know that we have got to take on the fos­sil fuel indus­try, trans­form our ener­gy sys­tem and move to sus­tain­able ener­gies like wind, solar and geot­her­mal.

They know that we need a $15 an hour fed­er­al min­i­mum wage, free tuition at pub­lic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, and uni­ver­sal child­care.

They under­stand that it is a woman who has the right to con­trol her own body, not state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments, and that woman has the right to receive equal pay for equal work and work in a safe envi­ron­ment free from harass­ment.

They also know that if we are going to move for­ward suc­cess­ful­ly as a democ­ra­cy we need real crim­i­nal jus­tice reform and we need to final­ly address com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform.

Yes. I under­stand that the Koch broth­ers and their bil­lion­aire friends are plan­ning to spend hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in the 2018 mid-term elec­tions sup­port­ing the Trump agen­da and right-wing Repub­li­cans. They have the mon­ey, an unlim­it­ed amount of mon­ey. But we have the peo­ple, and when ordi­nary peo­ple stand up and fight for jus­tice there is noth­ing that we can­not accom­plish. That has been the his­to­ry of Amer­i­ca, and that is our future.

Thank you all and good night.

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.
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