By: Chris Carey, Garrett Farrell, and Jeremy Perillo
Ringing in his fourth, and potentially last, year as President of the United States, Donald J. Trump addressed both houses of Congress for the annual State of the Union address. In addition to the main event of the evening, there were several other receptions and media events organized and run by Members of Congress.
The Tower had the opportunity to participate in one of those events, sending staff writers Chris Carey, Garrett Farrell, Jeremy Perillo, and Thomas Holmes to Chairwoman Maxine Waters’ 3rd Annual Millennial Media Row.
“[The] Millennial Media Row event provides millennial journalists… the ability to conduct interviews with the Congressional Democratic Caucus live from Capitol Hill before the annual state of the union address, an opportunity that was not previously provided to non-House Press Gallery credentialed outlets and reporters,” according to Waters’ office.
Alongside other popular media outlets such as The Cosmopolitan, HuffPost, and NowThis News, The Tower had the opportunity to interview members of the Democratic Caucus on issues ranging from gun control to their expectations of Trump’s address.
Chairman of the House Committee on Rules Jim McGovern (D MA-02) offered some candid remarks on the impeached president, the progress House Democrats have made over the past two years, and his hope for the future.
“We need to restore some decency in our politics. You know, with [Trump] it’s not just about Republican or Democrat, it’s a matter of if there’s gonna be any decency in our politics,” McGovern said. “He has lowered the bar so much.”
Touching upon the Democrats’ legislative record over the past few years, McGovern sounded frustrated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the “roadblock in the senate,” as well as the wide swath of issues facing the country.
“We have passed bills on gun safety, we have passed bills to protect equal rights for everybody in this country – women, the LGBTQ+ community. I’m proud of the pro-labor bills we have passed, and the bills we have passed to deal with the climate crisis,” McGovern said. “Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell runs the Senate, and the senate has become a graveyard for all good bills.”
Rep. Marc Veasey (D TX-33) addressed a question spurred by Monday’s Texas A&M-Commerce shooting. Veasey took office in 2013 and serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Small Business Committee.
“It’s hard to predict human change, but I do think you are going to see change in legislation. We’ve already passed a couple of background check bills,” Veasey said. “Even in Texas, the latest polls that came out right before the A&M shooting…showed that a majority of Texans support background checks. A majority of Texans support restrictions on high capacity magazines.”
Finally, The Tower staff spent one-on-one time with event host and leader of the House Committee on Financial Services, Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D CA-43). Waters listed a slew of perceived offenses President Trump and his administration have perpetrated as she railed against his divisive speech and policies. In particular, she focused on the role of the youth in the modern political arena.
“I think young people can now see what has turned out to be a dishonorable president – and compare that to other presidents that you may disagree with,” Waters said. “It is one thing to have philosophical differences, but it’s another thing to have someone as deplorable with the kind of character flaws that you and I don’t want children to emulate.”
The chairwoman focused mainly on the decorum and rhetoric of the president, as she has in the past. She talked of Trump’s quotes on “grabbing women by their private parts,” and “standing on 5th Avenue and shooting somebody and getting away with it.” She cites these among many of the reasons impeachment was necessary, and as a blight on American history and politics.
Nevertheless, Waters left the event with some degree of hope.
“I hope this will inspire young people to say ‘that’s not what I want to see. That’s not what I want my children to see.’ I’m the eternal optimist, I am,” she said. “I’m not discouraged at all.” And with one last smile, before moving on, Waters got the last word in as she quipped, “On December the 18th, at 8:20 in the evening, we impeached him in the House of Representatives, and I told them we should have started it earlier!”
Following the press event, Waters invited the media outlets to attend her State of the Union watch party in her committee room. She informed the group of attendees of her decision to not be on the House floor during the presidential address.
“To think that I would attend the #SOTU to hear the message of an IMPEACHED president is a thought that in no way would be consistent w/ my fight and struggle against this dishonorable president,” Waters announced on Twitter several hours before the joint session of Congress. “I will certainly NOT be there!”
The president’s address did not fail to capture the polarization that has taken over Congress amidst impeachment. Trump boasted about his accomplishments over the past three years of his presidency, causing many Democrats in the audience to raise eyebrows and shake their heads. He seemingly avoided the handshake offered by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who shredded her copy of Trump’s speech following his remarks. There were very few bipartisan moments throughout the night, but when there was, they were wholesome, despite any political motivation.
The few instances where Democrats were lifted out of their seats was to recognize some of the guests Trump had brought to emphasize his messages. A future member of Space Force, a former Tuskegee Airman, a military family unification, and the “true” President of Venezuela, for example, were recognized by the body with standing ovations.
In terms of specific policy, Trump touted a booming stock market, and plunging unemployment, stressing his economic success for a large portion of the beginning to his address. Additionally, Trump’s talking points ranged from foreign policy and military affairs to pre-existing conditions and coronavirus.
Trump used this opportunity as a catalyst for his platform ahead of the arduous election year that 2020 will undoubtedly be. This State of the Union, which was already an awkward situation due to the timing of President Trump’s impeachment trial, was visibly tense, polarizing, contentious and dramatic. One has to wonder, will America continue to endure this sort of politics throughout the fierce 2020 election, and possibly, beyond?