For South Florida Democrats And Republicans, Venezuela Was Rare Unifying Issue At State Of The Union

Feb 6, 2019

President Donald Trump called on Tuesday for more bipartisan cooperation in his State of the Union address to a newly-divided Congress. In South Florida, Democrats and Republicans appeared no more unified after the 82-minute speech.

While conservative voters applauded his conciliatory tone on certain issues like infrastructure, progressives said polarization under Trump would remain the status quo. And as Republicans praised his continuing demands for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, liberals bashed him for demonizing immigrants.

“I think he’s a hypocrite because, basically, he’s somebody who goes about screaming at people on the other side for arguing their point of view and then at the same time calls for them to rally behind his policies,” said Andy Vila, who attended a speech watch party hosted by the progressive group the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Barbara Balmaseda, the president of the Miami-Dade College Republicans, agreed with the calls for more cooperation. With Democrats now controlling the U.S. House of Representatives, “you need both sides,” she said at another watch party, hosted at the Cadillac Ranch restaurant in Kendall.

Trump expressed a commitment to infrastructure improvements, fighting childhood cancer, eliminating HIV and supporting Venezuela’s opposition leader—all issues that Democrats clapped for during his speech.

But the president continued rhetoric that has divided both parties throughout his presidency. He called for limits on late-term abortions and warned against the rise of socialism in the U.S. He also portrayed undocumented immigrants as responsible for violent crime and stealing American jobs and crowding schools and hospitals.

The focus on immigration came as Trump and Democrats remain deadlocked over his demands for border wall funding. Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been negotiating a compromise to increase border security. But Trump has called the talks a “waste of time” and threatened to declare a national emergency to secure wall funding.

At the Kendall watch party, Armando Ibarra accused Democrats of negotiating in bad faith and said Trump should follow through on the emergency if no deal is reached by a Feb. 15 deadline.

Democrats “want to ask for the things that they want, but they want to eliminate everything that the Republicans want,” said Ibarra, the president of the Miami Young Republicans.

More than a dozen people attended a State of the Union watch party on Tuesday hosted by the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
Credit Sam Turken / WLRn

Progressives called Trump’s continuing focus on rhetoric about immigration exhausting and misleading. Maria Rodriguez, the executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, noted that it’s inaccurate to associate immigrants with crime and violence. And a wall won’t address the fears that Trump is arousing, she said.

“All of us want to live in a safe country, but equating threats with migrants and refugees is wrong,” Rodriguez said.

The one issue that Democrats and Republicans seemed united around was the crisis in Venezuela.

Over the last two weeks, the Trump administration has recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s new leader and imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned company to increase pressure on embattled President Nicolás Maduro. Trump has said all options are "on the table" to oust Maduro, including military intervention.

South Florida is home to one of the largest Venezuelan-American communities in the country. As a Cuban-American, Ibarra said Venezuela's humanitarian and political crisis also resonates with many Cubans who have experienced similar suffering and political instability. He credited the increased resistance to Maduro for increasing hope among Venezuelans.

Although Rodriguez opposed the idea of a foreign coup in Venezuela, she likewise expressed support for efforts to restore democracy in the country. She noted that Venezuela’s crisis has forced millions of people to migrate to other countries. At the Immigrant Coalition, she said, “we believe in the right not to have to migrate.”