Abrams calls for voting rights in response to Trump's speech

In the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union, Stacey Abrams spoke out in favor of voting rights and against the government shutdown.

Speaking from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) headquarters in downtown Atlanta, Abrams defended HR 1, a Democratic bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday, among other voting rights and anti-corruption measures, and rebutted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that the legislation was a “power grab.”

“We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a ‘power grab,’” said Abrams. “Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risk their lives to defend. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders – not where politicians pick their voters.”

Abrams was the Democratic leader in the Georgia state legislature for seven years and lost a close 2018 race for governor in a campaign marred by accusations of voter suppression. Her opponent, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, purged voter rolls and essentially served as referee and participant. Abrams’s name has been floated as a potential 2020 U.S. Senate candidate against Republican incumbent David Perdue.

Although Trump did not mention the record-setting 35-day government shutdown that ended in late January, Abrams discussed working with Republican leaders in Georgia to help furloughed workers.

Stacey Abrams delivers the Democratic party's response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 from Atlanta. (Photo: Pool video image via AP)

“Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers,” said Abrams. “They waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope since they hadn't received a paycheck in weeks. Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace. The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values.”

In addition to the shutdown, Abrams touched on a number of topics not discussed by Trump, including gun safety regulations, student loan debt, labor protections, Medicaid expansion and climate change.

Abrams was the first African-American woman to deliver the formal response to a State of the Union, and her appearance marked a stark change for Democrats after the last two Trump speeches. Two years ago, following Trump’s address to Congress, the party turned to former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, who spoke from a diner filled with white people. Last year the response was delivered by Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who gave it from a school auto shop.

Responses to joint addresses to Congress are considered a thankless job with little upside regardless of the party out of power. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was mocked for pausing his speech to drink water while the 2017 Beshear response was roasted for its lack of energy and stiff setting.