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Democrats’ response to the State of the Union laid out their 2020 Latino outreach strategy

Rep. Veronica Escobar delivered the Spanish-language response.

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Rep. Veronica Escobar delivers the Spanish-language response to President Trump’s State of the Union address in El Paso, Texas, on February 4, 2020.
Cedar Attanasio/AP
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

If President Donald Trump gave a preview of his reelection message Tuesday night, Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar’s official Spanish-language response was the first look at the message the Democratic Party wants Latino voters to hear.

Escobar, a first-term member of Congress who won the seat previously held by former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, became one of the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress when she was elected in November 2018.

In her response, Escobar outlined the Democrats’ stance on bread-and-butter election issues, including universal affordable health care and raising the federal minimum wage. It showed how the Democrats are trying to frame the issues voters care about most in terms that appeal to Latinos, without predominantly focusing on the immigration debate.

But Escobar also made specific appeals to her primarily Latino audience, including how the president’s rhetoric has targeted Latinos and immigrants more broadly.

“In America, our diversity makes us stronger — it is what uplifts all voices and makes us an inclusive, dynamic country,” she said in Spanish. “Yet, the president clearly does not share this belief.”

Speaking at a community center in her district of El Paso, she acknowledged Puerto Ricans’ struggle to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. And she pointed out how Trump’s immigration policies have harmed immigrants living in the US, including so-called DREAMers, who may lose their legal status if the president’s efforts to dismantle Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals prevails; immigrant families who were separated on the border; migrant children who have died in immigration custody; and migrants who face dangerous conditions waiting in Mexico for their chance to seek asylum in the US.

“These are policies none of us ever imagined would happen in America in our lifetime,” she said.

Escobar has already been a vocal critic of Trump’s immigration rhetoric and policies sending asylum seekers back to Mexico, arguing that they have stoked the kind of hate that led to last year’s shooting in El Paso, in which 22 people died.

She invoked the same argument in her rebuttal, calling for legislation to ameliorate the gun violence epidemic and reiterated that the El Paso shooter used the “same hateful words” that Trump uses when referring to immigrants.

The Spanish-language rebuttal, which has been delivered by both Democrats and Republicans over the years, is a relatively new tradition that started in 2011 in an effort to reach out to the 37 million Latinos living in the US who speak Spanish at home. While Spanish is the US’s most common non-English language, the share of Latinos who speak Spanish is actually decreasing, in part because many Latinos living in the US are US-born.

Latino outreach will be important for 2020 Democrats in states like Florida, which Trump won by a razor-thin margin in 2016 and where Latinos make up nearly a quarter of the population.

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