New York Congressman Eliot L. Engel telegraphed his sentiments about the new folks in the White House Tuesday by passing up a coveted aisle seat at President Donald J. Trump’s speech to Congress.
It was reportedly the first time in nearly 30 years that the Democratic lawmaker, who represents most of southern Westchester, had blown off the chance to shake the hand of the Oval Office’s current occupant ... whoever that may have been.
Engel explained his decision not to greet Trump by saying that, while he has always prided himself on working with folks on both sides of the aisle, the new administration does not appear to be similarly inclined.
He cited the Trump administration’s apparent lack of interest in working with Congress on problems, such as “Russia’s unlawful interference in last year’s election.”
Engel, however, because of a purported "deep respect for the presidency” itself did attend Trump’s address. And he was not shy about sharing his reactions afterward.
Calling the speech “heavy on rhetoric and light on details,” Engel dubbed it confusing.
“It described a country that is both crumbling and prospering, limping along in despair while sprinting to new heights since his election,” he said, adding: “Sadly, the truth about our country’s true standing was left out, and, as a result, the American people are no closer to understanding how the president plans to deal with the real issues facing our nation."
Engel, who sits on the House’s Foreign Affairs and Energy and Commerce committees, did say he appreciated that Trump had acknowledged the recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents and a fatal shooting in Kansas City that authorities believe was motivated by racial or ethnic bias.
Some of those alleged hate crimes have occurred in Westchester, where bomb threats were called in at two Jewish community centers and several swastikas were found painted or carved at Lewisboro schools.
“We all must work together to put a stop to this troubling trend,” Engel said.
The congressman was equally as vocal about what he called “dangerous and unconstitutional” policies aimed at Muslims.
“President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration continues to be deeply troubling,” Engel said.
Engel decried as "political" Trump’s plan to “publicly highlight crimes committed by immigrants.”
Engel said Trump's speech “left out any mention of people like Jeanette Vizguerra, a working mother of four from Denver who was called before an ICE hearing this month to await deportation.” Vizguerra has sought sanctuary at a church in Denver and her story, “though disheartening, is not unique,” he added.
Engel also accused Trump of promising a new health care system that will improve choice, increase access, and lower costs, while putting forth policies “that do nothing to achieve those goals.” Referencing the current heroin epidemic, he chided the president for vowing to help end drug addiction while “simultaneously gutting the law that ensures coverage for substance abuse treatment.”
In January, Trump reinstated the “Mexico City Policy,” banning federal funding of organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, that offer abortion services.
Engel said this is another contradiction in Trump’s vision for the future because taking money away from organizations that “provide comprehensive reproductive health care is antithetical to the goal to ‘invest in women’s health.”
Furthermore, the congressman said, promising “access to coverage” for Americans with pre-existing health conditions “means nothing without the Affordable Care Act’s protections that keep insurers from charging those consumers more for care.”
Engel accused Republicans and the president of being more “concerned with scoring political points than (with) building on the ACA’s progress to address the challenges facing American families.”
The Bronx-born, former New York City school teacher and guidance counselor also had something to say about Trump’s stand on education.
While the president was “right to call education a civil rights issue,” the solution he offers “only serves to set us backward,” Engel said.
“His call to take funding away from our public schools and divert it to private, charter, magnet, and religious schools will not lead to greater achievement,” Engel said.
Vouchers divert “valuable resources away” from the public education system and don’t offer any real choice “for the overwhelming majority of students,” he said.
“I’ve always prided myself on working across the aisle, and if there is one thing on which we can all agree it’s that our country faces some real challenges. But tonight’s speech did little to address those challenges in a meaningful way,” the congressman concluded.
Engel's district includes parts of the Bronx as well as Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Scarsdale, Mamaroneck, Pelham, Pelham Manor, Larchmont, Tuckahoe, Bronxville, Eastchester, Hastings-on-Hudson, Ardsley, Hartsdale and Rye City. Prior to his election to Congress, he served in the New York State Assembly and chaired its committee on alcoholism and substance abuse.
Trump, who owns an estate in Bedford, also owns Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley in Stormville. The Trump name also adorns Trump Tower At City Center in White Plains, Trump Plaza in New Rochelle, Trump Park Residences in Yorktown and the Donald J. Trump State Park on the Westchester/Putnam border.