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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson Reacts To State of the Union Address


To get a sense of how the president's State of the Union address was received in different parts of the country, we've called on two governors. Elsewhere in the show, we'll hear from Colorado Governor Democrat John Hickenlooper.

Now we go to Arkansas, where for more than a year we've been checking in with the state's Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson. And he is back on the line with us now from Blytheville, Ark. Welcome, Governor.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Great to be with you today. Thank you.

KELLY: Now, you're out on the road today. I mentioned we've reached you in Blytheville. Is that right?

HUTCHINSON: That's right. This is Blytheville. It's in Mississippi County, extreme northeast part of Arkansas. And it's right on the Mississippi River. The steel industry employs about 3,000 people here in this county, and so it's been a good day of talking about the steel industry and workforce training.

KELLY: And as you were out and about talking to people, were they watching the speech? What are you hearing?

HUTCHINSON: I did. Generally the response is very good and favorable. I think it caught people off-guard that it was like, this is a President Trump that understands the unique role the president can do in bringing people together. And utilizing the State of the Union address is something that not only speaks to Congress but also speaks to the nation. And they like the message that they heard.

KELLY: Well, let me ask you about a couple of the specific topics that the president touched on in the address last night. One that struck me because it was so short in this speech is health care, the Affordable Care Act, which of course was a huge focus of Republican time and energy last year - the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Last night, the president devoted precisely one line to it.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare. The individual mandate is now gone, thank heaven.


KELLY: So Governor Hutchinson - mission accomplished?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think it was important to emphasize that's a very dramatic change from what happened under Obamacare with the repeal of the individual mandate. But I think it's really practical recognition, too, that while we've done something significant, it's going to be hard to go back to health care whenever it's an election year, whenever the agenda is limited in Congress and you want to do infrastructure and you want to do so many other things that he outlined, that he emphasized what has been done.

KELLY: The president did give a - devote a big chunk of his speech last night to talking about immigration. And when we have spoken to you in past, you have been skeptical about his plans to build a wall. For example, you've said, we should be realistic in our discussions about this. So let me ask you. Is the president now being realistic?

HUTCHINSON: I do believe he has adopted a very realistic stance in terms of border security. I've always supported border security. I question the realism of having a physical wall across the entire southern border, and he's recognized that there are some areas that just doesn't work. So I think he's taken a very forward-leaning approach to it recognizing that we can address the DREAMers if we have that high level of border security that he's advocating. It's a good position to be in. It's something that we ought to have bipartisan support for.

KELLY: You said you support the outline of this, the framework of this. But as you know, as a politician, the devil is in the details. Where do you see this snagging?

HUTCHINSON: Well, this is the first time that I believe that the president has really engaged in a leadership position on a specific issue. On many of the other, like health care reform, he said, Congress, let's get it done, and he left them to work that out. So this is really a - him staking out his own leadership position here and his own framework. So the ball's in Congress's court right now to say, we can do that and to hammer out those details. I think he's shown the leadership that the American people expect and we appreciate in a president.

KELLY: Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson - Governor Hutchinson, thanks so much for taking the time and joining us once again.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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