New York Times: Ex-Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to Give Democratic Response to Trump

February 24, 2017
Former Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a senior Democrat best known for putting the Affordable Care Act into effect in a deeply conservative state, will give his party’s response to President Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday, Democratic congressional leaders announced on Friday.

In selecting Mr. Beshear, 72, Democrats opted to elevate an elder statesman from the belt of heartland states that Mr. Trump won handily, rather than highlighting one of the party’s newer faces or a potential challenger to Mr. Trump in 2020.

In announcing the choice, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, underscored Mr. Beshear’s distinctive credentials as a spokesman on health care.

The party is in the middle of a major push to derail Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, encouraging activists to swarm their members of Congress at town hall-style meetings and assailing Republican leaders for lacking a specific plan to replace the health care law.

Democratic governors gathering in Washington this weekend plan to call on Congress not to strip away health care funding from their states.

“Governor Beshear’s work in Kentucky is proof positive that the Affordable Care Act works, reducing costs and expanding access for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement.

Mr. Beshear, he added, “knows exactly what is at risk if President Trump and congressional Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement.”

Ms. Pelosi described Kentucky under Mr. Beshear as “one of the great success stories of the Affordable Care Act in delivering quality, affordable health coverage for all.”

Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi also announced that Astrid Silva, an immigration activist, would give a response to Mr. Trump’s address in Spanish.

Mr. Beshear, a relatively moderate Democrat who is the son of a preacher, indicated in a statement that he would also critique Mr. Trump’s leadership style and discuss education and economic opportunity.

“Real leaders don’t spread derision and division — they build partnerships and offer solutions instead of ideology and blame,” Mr. Beshear said.

But if Mr. Beshear can be expected to present an unthreatening message to voters in the political middle, it is his work on health care that has made him a national figure in the Democratic Party.

As governor, Mr. Beshear opened a state health care exchange, known as Kynect, and accepted federal money to expand Medicaid coverage in Kentucky. The number of Kentuckians without health insurance fell to 7.5 percent in 2015 from 20.4 percent in 2013, tied with Arkansas for the most dramatic plunge in the country.

Mr. Beshear has been a consistent voice of optimism about the Affordable Care Act among Democrats, and he predicted several years ago that the law would prove so popular, after being fully carried out, that it would more likely be expanded than repealed.

The law faces a far more uncertain prognosis, after Republicans won control of the White House and kept control of Congress in 2016 after campaigning on a pledge to unravel the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Beshear’s successor as governor, Matt Bevin, who is a Republican, won federal approval last fall for a plan to dismantle the Kynect exchange and move the state into the federal exchange.

But polls have shown the Affordable Care Act growing in popularity recently, during the debate over its possible demise, and Republicans in Congress are plainly struggling to make good on their vow to “repeal and replace” it.

Mr. Beshear’s response to Mr. Trump’s address will not be his first role in a presidential address to Congress. In 2014, he attended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech as a guest of the president, who hailed his work on health care from the well of the House of Representatives.

“Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country, but he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families,” Mr. Obama said of Mr. Beshear.