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Partisan tension hung over State of the Union — even before Texas congresswoman gave rebuttal from El Paso

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President Donald Trump touted economic and military successes. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin was among Democrats who walked out. Afterwards, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar rebutted Trump’s speech from El Paso.

In what was his final State of the Union before he again faces voters in November, President Donald Trump mostly shook off months of impeachment proceedings and delivered a speech with reelection in mind.

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“Our borders are secure. Our families are flourishing. Our values are renewed. Our pride is restored,” he said. “And for all these reasons, I say to the people of our great country, and to the members of Congress, the state of our union is stronger than ever before.”

But this was no bipartisan affair, and the impeachment proceedings that are on track to conclude on Wednesday lent polarized iciness to the annual address.

At the outset, the president passed up Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s offer to shake his hand. In return, Pelosi presented the president to the members of Congress without calling it her “high privilege and distinct honor,” as she did during the George W. Bush era. And as she was still on the dais after the speech, Pelosi methodically tore up a printed version of Trump’s remarks that he had presented her.

Republican members greeted Trump with chants of, “Four more years.” Several Democratic members walked out on the speech. That group included U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat who later said in a statement that he hoped voters oust “this self-serving, reckless president before he becomes a full-fledged tyrant.”

Without mentioning President Obama’s name, Trump framed the past three years as a success after what he characterized as troubled years under his predecessor. It was a posture with which the Obama administration officials and Congressional Democrats took issue.

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The president’s annual address to both chambers of Congress was at times aspirational — the president called his time in office “the great American comeback.” But it also painted a dark picture of immigrants in America.

Trump pushed for Republican policies, including school choice and construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. One of the few moments of bipartisan applause in the chamber came when the president advocated for renewed public works projects and expanded rural broadband access.

Mirroring the partisan tone of the speech, Texans in Congress had split reactions to Trump’s remarks, depending on their party affiliation.

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Republican U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth lauded the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a new North American trade deal, that Trump recently signed into law.

“President Trump’s optimistic vision for our country puts hardworking Americans first, and I was pleased to hear him outline his continued commitment to policies that promote a strong economy, secure our nation’s border, and modernize our great military to protect the American way of life,” she said in a statement.

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And Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said on Twitter that the speech highlighted the “great American comeback” that has occurred since Trump took office.

“Thanks to his leadership, hardworking American families are doing far better than at any time in recent decades,” he said.

In an interview after the speech, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro accused Trump of sowing fear with his remarks on immigration and giving Americans a “false sense of security” with his vows to keep building a border barrier.

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“You know, there were parts of it that were clearly meant as a pep rally for his base,” Castro said. “There were parts of it that were, I thought, powerful for the American people, like the reunion of the soldier and his family. That was wonderful to see. But he undercut himself by again, going back to division, which is what he always does.”

In delivering the Spanish-language rebuttal to the president’s speech from her hometown of El Paso, Democratic U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar was not subtle in prose or place.

In just more than 11 minutes, Escobar took aim at Trump and Republicans on issues she said not only affect her constituents, but impact the lives of Americans across the country: the economy, environment, health care and gun violence.

“In my state, the expansion of Medicaid would provide care for hundreds of thousands of Texans,” she said. “At the same time, Republicans across the country are actively fighting to dismantle benefits that save lives, working in the courts to eliminate every last protection of the Affordable Care Act, including protections for the 130 million people with pre-existing conditions.”

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She delivered her remarks at El Paso’s Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe location in Segundo Barrio, a historical, blue-collar neighborhood that sits just blocks from the international bridge that connects Texas and Mexico.

“I feel like all of us are delivering this message on behalf of El Paso,” she told the crowd of about 150 spectators present to hear her pre-taped remarks. “I love you all so much and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you’re spending your evening with us.”

Escobar was flanked by about two dozen guests who stood with her on stage, including two who were at the city’s Walmart that was shot up by a white supremacist who killed 22 people and injured dozens more last year. The alleged gunman posted a manifestó railing against a so-called Mexican invasión, and Escobar wasted no time in tying his words to President Trump.

“On August 3rd of last year, El Paso suffered from the deadliest targeted attack against Latinos in American history. A domestic terrorist confessed to driving over 10 hours to target Mexicans and immigrants,” she said. “Just before he began his killing spree, he posted his views online and used hateful language like the very words used by President Trump to describe immigrants and Latinos. That day, the killer took 22 innocent lives, injured dozens, and broke all of our hearts.”

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Sam Manas contributed to this story.

Disclosure: Walmart has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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