WASHINGTON (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is using the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to appeal to working-class voters, saying her party is focusing on easing health care costs and addressing other pocket-book issues.
“It’s pretty simple. Democrats are trying to make your health care better. Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away,” Whitmer says in early excerpts provided ahead of her speech Tuesday night. Trump captured Michigan in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes by appealing to lower-earning workers, winning a state that hadn’t voted for the GOP presidential candidate since 1988.
Democrats won House control in 2018 by lambasting unsuccessful efforts by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law. Democrats say they will concentrate on health care in this year’s campaign as well, including opposing an administration-backed federal lawsuit aimed at declaring Obama’s statute unconstitutional.
Trump’s impeachment has dominated Washington since the fall and in a remarkable confluence of events, the GOP-run Senate was set to acquit him Wednesday, less than 24 hours after his address. Whitmer did not mention impeachment in excerpts of her remarks, preferring instead to hone in on people’s economic well-being.
“It doesn’t matter what the president says about the stock market,” said Whitmer, whose name has surfaced as a potential vice presidential nominee. “What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs.”
Democrats’ selection of Whitmer, 48, underscored their determination to improve their performance in the Midwest in November’s elections. Trump won over enough working-class white voters there to also score slender victories in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and to win Ohio handily.
“American workers are hurting,” Whitmer said, listing those states. “All over the country. Wages have stagnated, while CEO pay has skyrocketed.”
Whitmer’s prominent role also highlighted her party’s bid to appeal to women, who’ve soured on Trump’s belligerent style and whose growing support helped Democrats make big gains in suburban districts in 2018.
Whitmer was elected governor easily that year over a Trump-backed Republican, and she’s even been mentioned as a potential vice presidential nominee.
Whitmer, speaking at East Lansing High School, which her daughters attend, described the ordeal of caring for her infant daughter and dying mother years ago.
““I was up all night with a baby and during the day, I had to fight my mom’s insurance company when they wrongly denied her coverage for chemotherapy,” she said.
In Democrats’ Spanish-language response, freshman Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar also spoke of health care and workers’ struggles to get by.
But in English language excerpts provided ahead of the speech, she also described last August’s mass killing in her hometown of El Paso, Texas, by a shooter who she said “used hateful language like the very words used by President Trump to describe immigrants and Latinos.”
Escobar also touched on Trump’s impeachment, saying that he’d jeopardized the next election and threatened national security with his efforts to pressure Ukraine, an ally fighting Russian-backed insurgents, to produce damaging information on political rival Joe Biden.
“We Democrats will continue to fight for truth and for what is right. No one is above the law,” Escobar said.
Associated Press writer Cedar Attanasio in El Paso, Texas, contributed to this report.
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