WASHINGTON ― In the official Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams delivered a passionate speech about the need for economic and social justice in America and said even though she disagrees with Trump on virtually everything, she still wants him to succeed.
“My reason for running for governor was simple: I love our country and its promise of opportunity for all,” Abrams said, beaming against the blurred backdrop of a group of men and women of different races. “I stand here tonight because I hold fast to my father’s credo: Together, we are coming for America, for a better America.”
Abrams, who is the first black woman to give a Democratic response to the State of the Union, denounced the president’s policies on immigration, LGBTQ rights, gun safety, education and health care. She didn’t need to name the president directly when she urged Americans to hold people “in the very highest offices” accountable for racism. But she did call Trump out directly for shutting down the government last month, making federal workers go without pay for weeks in his push for border wall money.
“Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace,” said Abrams. “The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people but our values.”
Still, Abrams extended an olive branch to Trump, urging him to consider how much Democrats and Republicans can accomplish by working together.
“Even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems, I still don’t want him to fail,” she said. “But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.”
Even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems, I still don’t want him to fail. Stacey Abrams
For all the potential of America, Abrams said, nothing is possible without “the bedrock guarantee” of people’s right to vote.
“Let’s be clear: Voter suppression is real,” she said. “From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.”
The issue is personal for her. Abrams lost her governor’s race in November to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) amid allegations of voter suppression. Kemp refused to recuse himself as the state’s top election official in his own election, which many said was a conflict of interest. He also faced scrutiny after his office placed 53,000 voters’ registrations in suspense because their names didn’t exactly match a state record. Nearly 70 percent of the people on the list were black.
Abrams included a call to fight for voting rights in Tuesday night’s response and took a shot at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who recently called a group of proposed voting reforms in Democratic legislation a “power grab.”
“We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a ‘power grab,’” she said. “The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders ― not where politicians pick their voters.”
Ultimately, Abrams said, the American promise stems from basic family values like the ones she grew up with as her family fluctuated between being lower middle class and working poor. She talked about her parents coming home from work “weary and bone-tired” but still showing her and her siblings all that they could be.
“Our power and strength as Americans lives in our hard work and our belief in more,” Abrams said. “My family understood firsthand that, while success is not guaranteed, we live in a nation where opportunity is possible.”