President should use his address to rally Americans to our nation’s real needs

The State of the Union speech is that singular national conversation where the leader of the free world momentarily holds Americans’ attention, and seizes it to inspire, focus and rally us to nobler causes.

This president, I fear, will use this historic moment to divide, distract and bully his way toward a border wall that’s no more than a totem to taxpayer waste, cruel intolerance and personal vanity.

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Still, I hold out hope I will hear a State of the Union speech that seeks common ground in protecting our democracy, our health and our economy.

House Democrats have made improving the integrity of our elections, and how they are financed, our top priority. HR 1 includes significant reforms in redistricting, ethics, disclosure and election security, changes that Americans overwhelmingly support.

It’s no secret that voters are frustrated with our political system and the power that dark money has to distort it. Republicans have spent years rewarding wealthy donors and special interests, while at the same time erecting barriers at the voting booth to people of color and the poor.

Making it easier for citizens to engage in our democracy, such as creating an Election Day holiday and same-day registration, should be part of any bipartisan push to boost civic engagement, and it’s a goal I hope the president will embrace.

Improving the nation’s health should be another easy, common cause. Democrats would welcome Trump paying more than lip service to frustrations over the high cost of prescriptions. The Committee on Oversight and Reform on which I serve has made skyrocketing drug prices a top priority. Allowing the Medicare prescription drug program to negotiate drug prices is another sensible step in that direction.

Though his actions belie his claim, Trump says he wants to protect health care access for people like me, a breast cancer survivor, who have pre-existing conditions. Yet Republicans voted last month against defending the 130 million Americans who live with them. Trump could vindicate himself and his party by declaring that they will no longer erode existing safeguards to affordable health care access. In fact, we could actually expand access and help control costs, if the president embraced a public option for health coverage, as Democrats have long advocated.

Another issue where talk is cheap is gun reform. Embracing common-sense gun reforms would also go far to curb the public health threat posed by firearm deaths.

The president could also find common ground with Democrats by following through on his stated desire to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

House Democrats are hard at work on legislation that invests in infrastructure and creates good jobs here at home, and there are a host of other policies the president could embrace that would make sure all Americans can share in a healthy economy. Equal pay and paid leave legislation would help remove the financial handcuffs that many women and communities of color suffer from disproportionately. Raising the minimum wage and expanding training and education programs are also places where both sides could seek agreement.

I hope Republicans and the president will work with us to achieve these goals, but my fear is the president will use this State of Union to argue for an ineffective, antiquated border wall.

However, it is border security experts – and not the president’s political base – who should be directing this essential conversation. Among them, there is wide agreement we should invest heavily in our ports of entry, where illegal drugs overwhelmingly arrive. New technology and more personnel deployed there could scan cars and trucks for drugs, detect unauthorized crossings, and bolster trade.

Instead of 7th Century walls, we should be building a modern Smart Wall that uses drones, sensors, and radar surveillance technology. This is what the experts say is the most efficient and effective way to maximize border security, regulate immigration and boost the economy.

If the president instead uses this speech to stoke a manufactured crisis, it will be another wasted opportunity. Harming federal workers, sacrificing food and air safety, and degrading our nation’s military readiness are not budget negotiating tactics. They are what kidnappers use to negotiate for hostages.  

The State of the Union speech should be above that, and the president should use it to rally Americans to our nation’s real needs. Turning this historic moment into a press conference for a manufactured border crisis would be a colossal presidential failure. Let’s hope, instead, the president will seek common ground to move our nation forward, so we can make progress together rather than going backward.

Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzFeminine hygiene products to be available to House lawmakers using congressional funds Dems accused of MeToo hypocrisy in Virginia President should use his address to rally Americans to our nation’s real needs MORE represents Florida’s 23rd District. She is chairwoman of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee and is a member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform.