For Dems, Trump's call for unity 'not credible'; for GOP, he reached out

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Washington — Michigan lawmakers had mixed reviews of President Donald Trump's second State of the Union address Tuesday, with Democrats struggling to square his appeals for unity with the previous two years of partisan and personal attacks. 

Freshman Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, said the call for bipartisanship was "not credible," especially without any common-ground policy proposals from the president Tuesday night. 

"It just rings so hollow from someone who has been perhaps the most divisive president in modern history, in the ways he calls everyone names, the way he makes fun of people with disabilities and talks so horribly about Mexican immigrants," Levin said.

"Then he just comes here and says we have a choice — will we be unified and will we compromise and will we work together? I'm sitting there saying, OK, gee, but he's not shown any interest in doing that." 

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland said it was the most disciplined speech he's heard from the president. 

"I think he tried to be aspirational," Huizenga said. "At the very end he was talking about what will we do with this moment — sort of challenging Congress. Look at the opportunities before us, and bigger victories are still to come. From that standpoint, I think he was really trying to reach out."

In his speech, Trump urged lawmakers to "reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution."

Freshman Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., left, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, attend President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said she struggled to understand Trump’s message about unity, suggesting a disconnect between his words and deeds.

“Because actions really speak huge amounts of value, especially as a sitting president. For us to really bring folks together, for us to truly combat hate and anti-Semitism, it really starts with leadership at top,” Tlaib said.

“The huge increase in violence toward LGBTQ people, toward American Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, the Latino community have all seen a huge increase in hate crimes toward communities of color, and that really starts with the rhetoric that comes from the White House.”

Freshman Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, had hoped to hear more about science, infrastructure, education, manufacturing and the American worker, she said. 

"I'm encouraged about bipartisanship. I appreciated that was mentioned. I want to see it put into action," Stevens said.

"I do think that this is a new moment. We're part of a historic class, and I'm ready to get to work, particularly on our innovation agenda and our future of work." 

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, was pleased to hear Trump prioritize infrastructure and set the goal of eradicating the HIV epidemic in 10 years. 

"The president hit the right themes tonight," Mitchell said. "If we look to achieve the greatness and potential of this country, we can achieve it. Sometimes we have to step beyond the petty politics, the regionalism and factions in the system that comes along  and focus on the bigger objectives that we have." 

Mitchell highlighted the "significant" economic growth under Trump's leadership as evidenced, in part, by wage gains. 

But Tlaib said she imagined her residents watching at home and wondering about Trump's claims of reducing unemployment and increasing manufacturing jobs.

“Many of them are not feeling that and they’re not actually seeing it,” Tlaib said.

“I can imagine some of them are taken aback by some of the things being said, even though they know it’s not true.”

Tlaib was happy to hear Trump acknowledge the historic number of women in this Congress, with 102 in the House.

“Great, you’re talking about something we created, that we did, and he’s acknowledging that,” said Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.   

Trump on Tuesday urged Congress to pass his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, but even Republican lawmakers say they aren't quite ready to do so. 

Huizenga said he wants to see the details before signing off on the new deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, particularly issues related to steel and agriculture.

"I want to make sure they're not just trying to recapture a world that no longer exists," Huizenga said.

Mitchell, who campaigned on updating NAFTA, said the outline of the new deal makes sense, but he also wants to examine the details. 

"We don't have that proposed legislation yet, so I need to look at it. But I think it's the right direction," Mitchell said. 

"One of the things that's in there is a five-year interval for review, which you need to have to get it outside the political process. It shouldn't be a political football as part of a presidential or congressional or Senate campaign." 

Levin said the new deal is so similar to the flawed NAFTA that it won't address labor standards and wage suppression in Mexico that led to outsourcing of U.S. vehicle and supplier production.

"I won't even call it NAFTA 2.0. I call it NAFTA 1.5. It's very little different," Levin said. 

Stevens said she's optimistic about the new trade deal but is listening to concerns and opportunities raised by the auto industry. 

"We are going to have to look at the legislation. It's going to be up to us to prioritize the full scope, particularly as it pertains to the workforce," she said.