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Not My President: Muslim American Activist Linda Sarsour on Turning Down Invite to Trump Speech

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In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, Donald Trump vowed to greatly expand the Pentagon’s budget, to repeal and replace Obamacare, to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico and to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the name of national security. As part of our roundtable discussion, we begin with Muslim American organizer Linda Sarsour, who co-chaired the Women’s March on Washington. She was invited to attend the speech but opted not to.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Donald Trump vowed to greatly expand the Pentagon’s budget, repeal and replace Obamacare, build a wall along the southern border with Mexico and crack down on undocumented immigrants in the name of national security. The Washington Post reports the 60-minute speech included multiple factual inaccuracies, which include Trump taking credit for jobs that were actually created under the previous administration, and misrepresenting statistics to make unemployment and crime rates appear significantly worse than they are. While the tone was softer than his inaugural address, Trump focused on his extreme nationalistic vision for the country.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America must put its own citizens first, because only then can we truly make America great again.

AMY GOODMAN: During his speech, which he closely read from a teleprompter, Trump repeatedly called for curtailing immigration for economic and security reasons.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our obligation is to serve, protect and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism. According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country. We have seen the attacks at home, from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and, yes, even the World Trade Center. We have seen the attacks in France, in Belgium, in Germany and all over the world. It is not compassion, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists. That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures, and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and to keep those out who will do us harm.

AMY GOODMAN: While he gave no details, Trump is expected to sign a new executive order in the coming days limiting or barring entry into the United States by refugees or residents of some majority-Muslim nations. His first executive order banned people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the U.S., but it was blocked by the courts last month. According to the Associated Press, Trump’s new order will not ban Iraqi citizens from traveling to the United States. The new order will also reportedly exclude legal permanent residents and existing visa holders.

To talk more about Trump’s speech to Congress and his first 40 days in office, we’ll be joined by a number of guests: Jeffrey Sachs, leading economist, director of Sustainable Development at Columbia University; William Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy; Linda Sarsour is a leading Muslim American organizer, served as co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington; Kelly Lytle Hernández will be joining us, associate professor in the UCLA Department of History; and soon Ola Ojewumi will be with us, community organizer, founder of Project ASCEND. She was at the event last night. She was at the hearing—she was at the speech of President Trump, his first address to a joint session of Congress.

I want to begin with Linda Sarsour. Your response to what President Trump said last night?

LINDA SARSOUR: I’m still mind-boggled by people who are saying he sounded presidential. I guess reading and being able to follow a teleprompter is the bar we’ve set to what it means to be presidential. It was outrageous how he used very tragic events of people who lost their loved ones to sow fear against immigrants and undocumented people. He talked about all these things, military expansion, about the wall, but never told anyone—and infrastructure—but never told us how we were going to pay for it. He took a lot of credit for things that happened under the previous administration when it came to job growth in this country. There was so much inaccuracy. And actually I dared people on Twitter to—I made a bet: How long would take for him to talk about radical Islamic terrorism? And it didn’t take quite long for him to talk about radical Islamic terrorism in his speech. And again, just really overall, just really outrageous, and I was really—I was actually invited to attend the joint address. I was invited by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. But I just couldn’t bring myself to come into that space and legitimize a man who I believe is not my president.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey Sachs, your response to what President Trump said last night?

JEFFREY SACHS: Well, it doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t add up. He has a theory, if you could dignify it that way, which is that America somehow is being cheated by the rest of the world, and he’s going to help people who are hurting by getting back at the rest of the world, whether it’s the Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese and so on. And unfortunately, like many bad theories—and Ronald Reagan had a bad theory to destroy government to solve such problems—Trump has the wrong theory. And it can’t work, because our problems are not the ones that he’s pointing his finger at. He has no way to pay for what he says. The only proposal to pay for what he says is, quote-unquote, his “tax cuts,” which obviously expands deficits.

This is an anti-young people’s administration also. He is destroying—out to destroy the environment. He’s out to increase the public debt massively. It’s young people that will pay the costs of all of this. Maybe it’s not surprising for a man who lives in the past, thinks in the past, has no vision of the future. Ironically, he tried a Kennedyesque twist: He talked about the torch being passed. But when he became president, the torch was passed back to the 20th century, definitely not forward to the 21st century.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then, when we come back, we’ll get response from Bill Hartung on the massive increase on the military budget that President Trump is calling for and spoke about last night. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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