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Ayanna Pressley to deliver Working Families Party's response to Trump's State of the Union

Posted January 31, 2020 7:14 a.m. EST

— Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts will deliver a response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night on behalf of the Working Families Party, a progressive organization that, like Pressley, has endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the Democratic presidential primary.

Pressley's remarks will follow the official Democratic rebuttals, which will be given by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and, in Spanish, by Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas. All three women were first elected to their current offices in 2018.

"What I intend to speak to is not the strength of our union, per se, but the strength of our movement," Pressley said in an interview. "This is really a love letter to the activists and the foot soldiers who have made the victories possible and who will continue to make victories possible, to really champion and elevate and advance working families."

This is the third consecutive year that the Working Families Party has tapped a progressive official to answer Trump. Pressley follows former Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, who spoke in 2018, and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who gave the 2019 response. The speech, which will be streamed live on the Working Families Party's Facebook page, comes a day after the Iowa caucuses. Pressley is scheduled to make at least four stops for Warren -- in Ames, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City -- during a 24-hour period beginning on Friday afternoon.

Pressley said the decision to accept the Working Families Party's invitation to give the speech was "a continuation of our partnership and justice work that we've already been doing," and she praised Warren as a leader dedicated to that mission.

"When I ran for Congress, I said, 'The people close to the pain should be closest to the power,' driving and informing the policymaking. That wasn't some cute hashtag or slogan -- that's a value," Pressley said. "It's something that we practice at our organization. And Elizabeth Warren has also modeled that in her governance style."

In a statement, Warren said she was excited that Pressley's voice and "bold, visionary leadership" would be featured in such close contrast to Trump's address.

"Congresswoman Pressley has a unique ability to unite Americans across lines of difference, move hearts and give voters the tools they need to fight for a better tomorrow," Warren said. "At a time when corruption and the politics of division continue to rule the day in Washington, I'm thrilled that Ayanna's voice will bring clarity, hope and inspiration to working families following the State of the Union."

Pressley is the only member of "The Squad" of freshman congresswomen -- which includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan -- to choose Warren over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primary. Sanders gave his own rejoinder to Trump's State of the Union in 2019 -- as he had done the year before -- a move that angered some Democrats, who accused him of distracting from the official response by former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.

The Working Families Party is a New York-based progressive organization that has expanded its reach over the past few years into down-ballot races around the country, primarily boosting candidates in the Midwest and New England.

But it has come under fire in New York state, where it has a fraught relationship with a Democratic establishment led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The group backed Cuomo's 2018 primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, and a number of successful insurgent candidates in state Senate races. Their eventual victories broke a controversial alliance between Republicans and a breakaway group of Democrats who caucused with the GOP, giving the party near-total control of the state government, which led to the passage of a slate of new progressive legislation last year.

Working Families Party national director Maurice Mitchell said the group wanted to offer a "unique" response to Trump and Republicans and that Pressley was the "perfect" pick because "she represents everything that we believe in."

Her remarks, Mitchell added, would not be a glorified stump speech for Warren.

"This message is for the entire country, not just for folks who identify as progressive or even folks who even identify as Warren supporters," he said. "What we're talking about is a movement that is bigger than any one candidate. But a movement that surely includes Senator Warren."

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