Rebuttal Delivered by Former Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky
[The President's speech of which this is a response, can be found by clicking this link.]
I'm Steve Beshear. I was governor of Kentucky from 2007 to 2015. Now I'm a private citizen.
I'm here in Lexington, Ky. — some 400 miles from Washington — at a diner with some neighbors — Democrats and Republicans — where we just watched the president's address. I'm a proud Democrat, but first and foremost, I'm a proud Republican, and Democrat, and mostly American. And like many of you, I am worried about the future of this nation.
Look, I grew up in Kentucky in a small town called Dawson Springs. My dad and granddad were Baptist preachers. My family owned a funeral home. And my wife, Jane, and I have been married for almost 50 years. I became governor at the start of the global recession, and after eight years, we left things a lot better than we found them.
By being fiscally responsible — I even cut my own pay — we balanced our budget and turned deficits into surpluses without raising taxes. We cut our unemployment rate in half. We made huge gains in high school graduation rates. And we found health coverage for over half a million Kentuckians.
We did that through trust and mutual respect. I listened. And I built partnerships with business leaders and with Republicans in our legislature. We put people first and politics second.
The America I love allowed a small-town preacher's kid to be elected governor, and it taught me to embrace people who are different from me, not vilify them. The America I love has always been about looking forward, not backward, about working together to find solutions, regardless of party, instead of allowing our differences to divide us and hold us back.
And we Democrats are committed to creating the opportunity for every American to succeed by growing our economy with good-paying jobs, educating and training our people to fill those jobs, giving our businesses the freedom to innovate, keeping our country safe, and providing health care that families can afford and rely on.
Mr. President, as a candidate, you promised to be a champion for families struggling to make ends meet, and I hope you live up to that promise. But one of your very first executive orders makes it harder for those families to even afford a mortgage. Then you started rolling back rules that provide oversight of the financial industry and safeguard us against another national economic meltdown. And you picked a cabinet of billionaires and Wall Street insiders who want to eviscerate the protections that most Americans count on and that help level the playing field.
That's not being our champion. That's being Wall Street's champion.
And even more troubling, you and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it. Does the Affordable Care Act need some repairs? Sure, it does. But so far, every Republican idea to "replace" the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of Americans covered, despite your promises to the contrary.
Mr. President, folks here in Kentucky expect you to keep your word. Because this isn't a game. It's life and death for people.
These ideas promise "access" to care but deny the importance of making care affordable and effective. They would charge families more for fewer benefits and put the insurance companies back in control. Behind these ideas is the belief that folks at the lower end of the economic ladder just don't deserve health care, that it's somehow their fault that their employer doesn't offer insurance or that they can't afford to buy expensive health plans.
But just who are these 22 million Americans, including 500,000 people right here in Kentucky, who now have health care that didn't have it before? Look, they're not aliens from some distant planet. They're our friends and our neighbors.
We sit in the bleachers with them on Friday night. We worship in the pews with them on Sunday morning. They're farmers, restaurant workers, part-time teachers, nurses' aides, construction workers and entrepreneurs working at high-tech start-ups. And before the Affordable Care Act, they woke up every morning and went to work, just hoping and praying they wouldn't get sick, because they knew that they were just one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy.
You know, in 2010, this country made a commitment, that every American deserved health care they could afford and rely on. And we Democrats are going to do everything in our power to keep President Trump and the Republican Congress from reneging on that commitment. But we're going to need your help by speaking out.
Another commitment now being tested is to our national security. Look, make no mistake, I'm a military veteran myself, and I know that protecting America is a president's highest duty. Yet President Trump is ignoring serious threats to our national security from Russia, who's not our friend, while alienating our allies, who've fought with us side by side and are our friends in a dangerous world. His approach makes us less safe and should worry every freedom-loving American.
Instead, President Trump has all but declared war on refugees and immigrants. Look, the president can and should enforce our immigration laws. But we can protect America without abandoning our principles and our moral obligation to help those fleeing war and terror, without tearing families apart, and without needlessly jeopardizing our military men and women fighting overseas.
You know, another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, once said, "In America, our origins matter less than our destination, and that is what democracy is all about." President Trump also needs to understand that people may disagree with him from time to time, but that doesn't make them his enemies. When the president attacks the loyalty and credibility of our intelligence agencies, the court system, the military, the free press, individual Americans, simply because he doesn't like what they say, he is eroding our democracy. And that's reckless.
Real leaders don't spread derision and division. Real leaders strengthen, they unify, they partner, and they offer real solutions instead of ultimatums and blame.
Look, I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe that dignity, compassion, honesty and accountability are basic American values. And as a Democrat, I believe that if you work hard, you deserve the opportunity to realize the American dream, regardless of whether you're a coal miner in Kentucky, a teacher in Rhode Island, an autoworker in Detroit or a software engineer in San Antonio.
Our political system is broken. It's broken because too many of our leaders think it's all about them. They need to remember that they work for us and helping us is their work.
Kentucky made real progress while I was governor because we were motivated by one thing: helping families. Democrats are trying to bring that same focus back to Washington, D.C. Americans are a diverse people. And we may disagree on a lot of things, but we've always come together when we remember that we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.