‘It’s Trump as we’ve always known him,’ Rep. Carbajal says of State of the Union speech

Salud Carbajal joins SLO County leaders in rally against offshore drilling

United States Congressman Salud Carbajal led a rally against oil drilling off California’s coast on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 in San Luis Obispo.
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United States Congressman Salud Carbajal led a rally against oil drilling off California’s coast on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 in San Luis Obispo.

The Central Coast’s Democratic congressman said the first State of the Union speech of the Trump presidency under a divided government did little to foster the president’s “new era of cooperation.”

Speaking by phone following President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech before a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in Washington, D.C, Tuesday evening, Democratic Rep. Salud Carbajal called Trump’ speech a disappointment.

“I think it fell short from what I and some of my colleagues had hoped,” Carbajal said. “He made an effort to talk about unifying and bipartisanship, yet his behavior and actions couldn’t be further from those hollow words.”

Namely, the second-term congressman said Trump used his speech to “double down on vilifying immigrants” and hyperbolizing perceived problems at the U.S.-Mexico border that the administration says has led to violence and the opioid drug epidemic.

“I was quite saddened by him continuing to beat that drum, trying to create that we/they mentality,” he said. “He’s trying to sell his wall, the one he said Mexico would pay for.”

Carbajal called Trump’s optimistic claims about increasing cancer research and eradicating HIV as hypocritical and not supported by the budget he’s signed, which cut funding for the National Institutes of Health, for example, Carbajal said.

He also noted that the president talked about domestic oil and gas exploration but didn’t mention climate change, or whether another federal government shutdown is possible over funding for a southern border wall. The 35-day federal shutdown that ended Jan. 25 was the longest in history and due to an impasse over funding for a wall, a campaign promise Trump again claimed on Tuesday will “save lives.” He pledged he “will get it built.”

“He did not touch on whether he would shut down the government again or even that we’re just 10 days from another shutdown,” Carbajal said.

But one of Trump’s remarks went over especially poorly with Carbajal and his Democratic colleagues, he said.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” Trump said, referring to the investigation into alleged Russian interference into the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“I thought that was inappropriate,” Carbajal said.

But, Carbajal, a former U.S. Marine, said he wanted to give Trump credit for the president’s support of bipartisan congressional efforts toward veteran affairs accountability and the First Step Act, the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in recent history, which Trump praised Tuesday.

After sitting at the event directly behind a large group of new female Democratic lawmakers — dressed in symbolic suffragette white — Carbajal later acknowledged the president’s pointing out of the record number of freshman Congresswomen in the House.

A few of Carbajal’s Democratic colleagues boycotted Tuesday night’s speech, including longtime U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, while others protested the administration’s policies through the guests they brought to the event.

As his guest, Carbajal invited Erik Talkin, CEO of Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, which distributed more than21,296 pounds of food to 458 families of unpaid and furloughed federal workers during the federal government shutdown last month.

Carbajal said in a news release that he chose to bring Talkin because of the threat of yet another shutdown, as well as the Trump Administration’s signaled intention to make cuts to nutrition assistance programs. Roughly 86,140 residents in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties suffer from food insecurity, Carbajal’s office said in a news release.

In the end, Carbajal said he doesn’t believe Trump’s State of the Union address will change much.

“It’s Trump as we’ve always known him,” he said. “I think an authentic olive branch was not really extended.”

Carbajal represents the 24th Congressional District, covering San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, as well as a small portion of northern Ventura County.

Congressman Salud Carbajal visited the border facilities in Alamogordo New Mexico where two children in immigration custody recently died. Suggestions were made for improving border security but "Not once did they mention a wall."

Salud Carbajal shares what he learned after visiting the U.S. Coast Guard station in Morro Bay. They are unpaid during the partial government shutdown and the U.S. Congressman said this is causing pain and anxiety.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.