Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett heavily criticized President Donald Trump’s Tuesday night State of the Union speech, characterizing the president as peddling misinformation and touting other people’s work as his own administration’s accomplishments.
“Taking credit for work he didn’t do, as well as speaking mistruths was really very disconcerting,” Plaskett said.
According to Plaskett, Trump’s claim that his administration boasts the lowest unemployment rate ignores other economic indicators, including the fact that underemployment rates have soared. Plaskett also pointed to the drop in unemployment rates between the beginning of the Obama administration – roughly 10 percent in 2009 – and Trump’s election in 2016, when unemployment stood at 4.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“That’s a five-percentage-point change in unemployment during [Obama’s] tenure and President Trump from five [percent] to three [percent], and that was just a trajectory that [Trump] was moving on,” Plaskett said.
“He said he came in with a mess, whereas President Obama had 14 million jobs that were created during his time period. This president has not,” Plaskett added.
Plaskett also said higher income inequality belies Trump’s rosy depiction of economic growth. The U.S. Census Bureau’s data appears to support Plaskett’s claim. In 2018, the Bureau set the Gini coefficient – its standard measure for income inequality – at 0.485, which is “significantly higher” than its 2017 score. The Gini coefficient ranges from zero, where a nation’s income is distributed equally, to one, where a single person receives the country’s entire income.
On Tuesday, Trump also held up his administration’s efforts toward criminal justice reform, saying “everybody said that criminal justice reform could not be done, but I got it done and the people in this room got it done.”
But Plaskett said the heavy-lifting on the criminal justice reform bill happened in the House, led by Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), with help from key senators, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
“It put [Trump] in a position where he saw, ‘This is going to help me, so I’m going to sign it,’ but it’s not as if he was the one doing the work,” Plaskett said.
“We actually wanted to go further than the law that was actually passed but we ratcheted back to gets something that the president would in fact sign,” she added.
As for the president’s claim of offering vocational and technical education “in every single high school in America,” Plaskett doubted if it involved a real plan.
“He hasn’t been willing to fund education programs that the Democrats have offered to him, which have increased funding for education as well as for jobs training,” she said. “So, if he’s going to start funding ideas that we put forward, I’m happy he’s going to do that, but I haven’t seen it happen.”
On health care, President Trump said he made an “ironclad pledge” to protect families with preexisting conditions, a claim that critics promptly pounced on in light of his administration’s support for a lawsuit fighting protections for patients with preexisting conditions. Plaskett said the administration’s stance guts the Affordable Care Act, something that could affect Virgin Islanders benefiting from the prohibition on insurance companies excluding patients with preexisting conditions.
“I think he wasn’t being truthful, simple as that,” she said.
According to Plaskett, the president also was not truthful on immigration. In January, the Trump administration announced that it completed 100 miles of wall along the Mexican border, a significant amount of which Trump critics claim only replaced existing construction. Trump’s claim of fewer illegal crossings under his administration is also untrue, Plaskett said, adding that illegal crossing interdictions went up by 100,000 compared with the Obama administration.
Plaskett said she was particularly troubled by the attack on DREAMers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and now seeking to stay in the country legally. Hundreds of DREAMers are registered in the Virgin Islands, Plaskett said, having arrived with their parents from the Eastern Caribbean islands.
“They have done the right thing and registered and are living in the Virgin Islands and whose lives are threatened by the work that the president is doing to have them removed,” Plaskett said.
Instead of building physical barriers that will not work on the Virgin Islands’ porous borders, Plaskett advocates better arrangements with other countries “to ensure that they’re policing themselves” and supporting countries that immigrants flee out of economic or safety concerns. Additional funding for the Coast Guard patrolling territorial waters would also stop illegal immigration in the Virgin Islands, as well as stem the inflow of illegal weapons and drugs, according to Plaskett.
Plaskett also shared the sentiments of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who justified tearing up her copy of Trump’s speech by calling it “a manifesto of mistruths.” In a statement after the speech, Pelosi said the speech should be “a call to action for everyone who expects truth from the president and policies worthy of his office and the American people.”
Plaskett accused Trump of disrespecting Pelosi, referring to a brief interaction when the president appeared to avoid shaking Pelosi’s hand, and cast a negative light on his treatment of African American guests invited to the speech.
“I was absolutely appalled when I saw the number of black people that he was holding out. That, as a black person, was just disgusting to me,” Plaskett said.
Plaskett also condemned the “game show” feel of Tuesday night’s speech, comparing the atmosphere to an episode of Ellen or Oprah where the president was “giving out candy to people.”
“You get a scholarship, and you get your husband and you get a Medal of Freedom,” Plaskett said, referring to a viral Oprah segment-turned-meme featuring the talk show host giving out prizes to her studio audience.
“That was just insane and a mockery of the House,” Plaskett said.
While the president’s State of the Union did not specifically mention territories, Virgin Islanders should still pay close attention because the broader issues, including health care and immigration, ultimately affect the territory, Plaskett said.
“I think we as Virgin Islanders need to not think that what happens in America does not affect us, and that we’re isolated and insulated from the effects of all kinds of legislation,” she said.