WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear took a populist tenor in the Democrats' formal response to President Donald Trump's speech to Congress, accusing him of planning to "rip affordable health insurance" from Americans and being "Wall Street's champion."
Seated at a diner in Lexington, Kentucky, Beshear assailed Trump for "ignoring serious threats to our national security from Russia, who's not our friend, while alienating our allies." Democrats have berated Trump for his repeated warm remarks about Russian President Vladimir Putin and questioning the value of NATO, the long-time Western alliance.
Beshear's words and tone seemed a direct Democratic attempt to recapture the loyalties of working-class voters who helped power Trump's election upset last November. Beshear, 72, wore no jacket or tie and spoke of his upbringing in a family of Baptist preachers that owned a funeral home.
His selection by Democratic party chiefs to deliver their response seemed aimed at reaching mid-America. While far from a national figure, Beshear, whose eight years as governor ended in 2015, is best known for expanding health care coverage in his deep red state under former President Barack Obama's health care law.
Trump used his first address to Congress to urge lawmakers to kill Obama's 2010 overhaul and replace it with tax credits, health savings accounts and other elements of a plan being pushed by House GOP leaders. Conservatives have rebelled against the developing package, though leaders say they will push ahead with legislation in March.
"You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it," Beshear said.
Republicans believe lower-income people "just don't deserve health care, that it's somehow their fault" they lacked it, Beshear said. Twenty million Americans have gained coverage under Obama's law.
Trump's initial five weeks in office have seen persistent questions about his campaign's relationship with Russia, a mishandled order barring refugees and the firing of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. There have been massive demonstrations against Trump's policies in cities around the country, and GOP lawmakers have been greeted at town hall meetings by activists defending Obama's statute.
Emboldened by the energy of their party's voters, Democratic lawmakers sat stone-faced during numerous GOP ovations for Trump and flashed other brands of rebelliousness Tuesday evening.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., boycotted Trump's speech, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., ended his near three-decade streak of snagging an aisle seat to clasp the president's hand as he enters the House chamber for his speech. The visitors' galleries were stuffed with immigrants and recipients of health benefits under Obama's law — special guests invited by congressional Democrats, and a large number of Democratic women wore white to symbolize support for women's suffrage.
Beshear said that while Trump campaigned as "a champion for people struggling to make ends meet," he's taken executive action to roll back consumer protections against giant financial institutions and has stocked his Cabinet with wealthy business executives.
"That's not being our champion. That's being Wall Street's champion," Beshear said.
Beshear also criticized Trump's verbal assaults on intelligence agencies, federal courts and the press. Such attacks are "eroding our democracy," he said.
Giving the Democrats' response in Spanish was Astrid Silva, a so-called Dreamer brought to the U.S. illegally as a 4-year-old.
Silva, now 28, said Trump is "criminalizing anyone who is different, pitting us against each other, and sending the wrong message to the rest of the world, helping to breed anger and hate from terrorist groups to our country."