WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats have tapped former Gov. Steve Beshear to deliver the party's response to President Donald Trump's address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, highlighting the Kentucky Democrat's efforts to expand health care coverage under the law Republicans are determined to repeal and replace.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the announcement on Friday in which they also turned to immigration activist Astrid Silva to give the Spanish language response to Trump's speech. Silva is a so-called Dreamer who came to the country at the age of five as an illegal immigrant.
Silva spoke at the Democratic convention and her selection is a reminder of Trump's initial policies on immigration. While the Trump administration has cracked down on immigrants living in the country illegally, Trump has said he wants to spare the children.
Democrats' choice of Beshear as Tuesday's counterpoint to Trump underscored their desire to stress their support for former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which recent polling suggests is increasingly popular among Americans. It also comes as Republican leaders labor to craft a plan for replacing that law they can push through Congress — a problem that may have only intensified after GOP lawmakers held town hall meetings this week attended by boisterous backers of Obama's statute.
Beshear, now 72, served as Kentucky governor from 2007 to 2015. He embraced Obama's 2010 health care law and expanded the Medicaid program to cover around 400,000 Kentuckians, dropping the percentage of the state's uninsured people from over 20 percent to 7.5 percent, one of the nation's steepest reductions.
At a time when Democrats are trying to figure out how to reconnect with middle American voters who were crucial to Trump's election victory in November, Beshear gives the party a face from that part of the country. He's also from the same state as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who easily defeated Beshear when the Democrat challenged him in 1996 and is at the forefront of efforts to repeal the health care law.
"American families desperately need our president to put his full attention on creating opportunity and good-paying jobs and preserving their right to affordable health care and a quality education," Beshear said in a statement. "Real leaders don't spread derision and division — they build partnerships and offer solutions instead of ideology and blame."
Republicans have repeatedly criticized the law as too costly and vowed to repeal and replace Obama's overhaul.
House Republicans hope to roll out legislation in coming weeks to replace major elements of the Affordable Care Act with a new system involving tax credits, health savings accounts and high risk pools, but crucial details remain unknown.
Beshear's successor, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, has asked the federal government to let Kentucky change its expanded Medicaid program. He's said he would repeal the expansion if he's not given permission to reshape it.
Bevin has said the existing program is too costly and he wants to require most recipients to pay monthly premiums and have jobs or volunteer for a charity to stay eligible for benefits.
Silva moved to Nevada as a child and contact with former Sen. Harry Reid helped to transform her into an immigration activist.
"President Trump would have people believe that all immigrants are criminals and that refugees are terrorists," Silva said in a statement. "But like my family, the vast majority of immigrants and refugees came to this country escaping poverty and conflict, looking for a better life and the opportunity to reach the American Dream."