Democratic leaders have tapped former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear to respond to President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress — signaling their intention to use the moment to mount a renewed defense of the Affordable Care Act in the face of Republican efforts to repeal and replace it.
Democrats have also selected Astrid Silva, an immigration activist and so-called Dreamer, to deliver the Spanish-language response, indicating they plan to reinforce their criticism of Trump’s hard-line positions on immigration and border security.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the picks in a news release Friday morning. Trump is scheduled to speak to the full Congress next Tuesday night.
Beshear served as governor of Kentucky from 2007 to 2015. Supporters of the ACA often pointed to his state as a model for successfully implementing the law. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by about 30 points in Kentucky, a state with many white, blue-collar and rural voters.
“Governor Beshear’s work in Kentucky is proof positive that the Affordable Care Act works; reducing costs and expanding access for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians,” Schumer said in a statement.
Beshear’s rebuttal to Trump will come as Democrats have launched an aggressive push to try to stop or at least slow Republican attempts to undo key elements of the law. Meanwhile, angry constituents have packed town hall meetings held by Republican members of Congress to voice their worries about the impact of doing away with the law on those who have gained coverage from it.
The uproar has jarred many Republican lawmakers, who say they want to have a plan for replacing the law before they strip key parts of it away.
Beshear, who won two landslide elections as governor of Kentucky, is beloved by Democrats for enforcing the ACA despite Republican opposition, expanding Medicaid and building a popular insurance exchange. At a Jan. 28 forum in Houston, Beshear said that other Democrats had the ability to win in rural America if they worked at it and were not patronizing.
“Feelings are as important, if not more important, than just facts on a page,” Beshear said. “Feelings. I proved to the people in Kentucky that I really cared about them — cared about their families, and their future. I spent my time talking about the things they cared about the most — good jobs, educating their kids so that they can have a better future, health care for everybody.”
Immigration is another issue that Democrats have sought to highlight during the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency. They have sharply criticized the president’s calls for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and his entry ban that was stopped by a federal court.
“While President Trump unleashes a cruel deportation dragnet on hard-working immigrant families, Astrid Silva personifies the values that have always made America strong,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We are honored to have her represent Congressional Democrats in the Spanish language response.”
Silva was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. with her parents as an undocumented immigrant when she was a young child. She is the co-founder of the group Dream Big Vegas, which seeks to help other “Dreamers” who were bought into the U.S. as children.
David Weigel contributed to this report