Maryland Democrats skeptical of Trump's pitch for bipartisanship

Maryland Democrats expressed skepticism Tuesday that President Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union speech would change the political landscape on Capitol Hill or lead to bipartisan breakthroughs on immigration, infrastructure and other pressing issues.

Though Trump touched on issues that have garnered bipartisan support in the past — including efforts to address the opioid addiction crisis, prescription drug prices and infrastructure — members of the state’s mostly Democratic delegation said the first year of his administration had made them doubtful about the chances for agreement in the future.

The speech, said Democratic Rep. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George’s County, “does not change anything.”

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, agreed. Cummings met with Trump last year on the issue of lowering the price of prescription drugs — an idea that appeared to give Democrats and Republicans a possible path toward compromise but which was never fully pursued.

“The president promised that his top priority this year will be lowering prescription drug prices. I await his actions on this crucial necessity as I did when he made this promise last year,” Cummings said in a statement.

Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County lawmaker and the state’s only Republican in Congress, viewed the speech — and the first year of the Trump administration — differently. Harris echoed Trump’s praise for the tax law Republicans approved last year, arguing that it will help middle-class Americans.

“President Trump had a record-setting first year in office that delivered on his promise to put America first,” Harris said in a statement. “The stock market is booming, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest point in almost 20 years.”

Throughout the address Trump repeatedly looked over at the Democratic side of the House chamber, where members sat in stony silence as their GOP colleagues applauded. Trump used the speech to reiterate his desire to create a pathway to citizenship for so-called dreamers in exchange for tighter restrictions on other forms of immigration. He said his administration would “embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance at life.”

Trump also touched briefly on the opioid crisis sweeping communities across the country, including Baltimore. He said his administration would work toward getting "treatment for those in need,” but provided no specifics about how the White House would accomplish that and whether it would dedicate additional federal resources to that effort.

As in past years, lawmakers of both parties invited guests with an eye toward politics. Like many Democrats, Rep. Steny Hoyer — the House minority whip from Southern Maryland — brought a Dreamer to the address as his guest. Lawmakers are working toward a deal to reauthorize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected dreamers from deportation and allowed them to work legally.

Following through on a campaign promise, Trump ended that program last year.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, invited an El Salvador native who benefits from Temporary Protected Status, which the Trump administration recently announced it is ending. Raskin also brought Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, as Congress continues to debate a long-term plan to fund the federal government.

After a particularly divisive year in Washington, Trump used portions of his address to call for more unity. The state’s Democrats said they would wait to see the administration turn those words into action.

“Should he decide to pursue an agenda that puts working families first — on economic issues, on infrastructure investments, on protecting our Dreamers — Democrats stand ready to work with him,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat. “But if he refuses to change his ways, we will fight him tooth and nail.”

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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