Trump Covers the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in State-of-the-Union Address
WASHINGTON (AP) — Addressing a deeply divided nation, President Donald Trump summoned the country to a "new American moment" of unity in his first State of the Union, challenging Congress to make good on long-standing promises to fix a fractured immigration system and warning darkly of evil forces seeking to undermine America's way of life.
Trump's address Tuesday night blended self-congratulation and calls for optimism amid a growing economy with ominous warnings about deadly gangs, the scourge of drugs and violent immigrants living in the United States illegally. He cast the debate over immigration — an issue that has long animated his most ardent supporters — as a battle between heroes and villains, leaning heavily on the personal stories of White House guests in the crowd. He praised a law enforcement agent who arrested more than 100 gang members, and he recognized the families of two alleged gang victims.
He also spoke forebodingly of catastrophic dangers from abroad, warning that North Korea would "very soon" threaten the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles.
"The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world," Trump said. "But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers and America's forgotten communities."
Trump addressed the nation with tensions running high on Capitol Hill. An impasse over immigration prompted a three-day government shutdown earlier this year, and lawmakers appear no closer to resolving the status of the "Dreamers" — young people living in the U.S. illegally ahead of a new Feb. 8 deadline for funding operations. The parties have also clashed this week over the plans of Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation involving Trump's presidential campaign — a decision the White House backs but the Justice Department is fighting.
The controversies that have dogged Trump — and the ones he has created— have overshadowed strong economic gains during his first year in office. His approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.
At times, Trump's address appeared to be aimed more at validating his first year in office than setting the course for his second. He devoted significant time to touting the tax overhaul he signed at the end of last year, promising the plan will "provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses." He also highlighted the decision made early in his first year to withdraw the U.S. from a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade pact, declaring: "The era of economic surrender is totally over."
He spoke about potential agenda items for 2018 in broad terms, including a call for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending and partnerships with states and the private sector. He touched only briefly on issues like health care that have been at the center of the Republican Party's policy agenda for years.
Tackling the sensitive immigration debate that has roiled Washington, Trump redoubled his recent pledge to offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants — but only as part of a package that would also require increased funding for border security, including a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending the nation's visa lottery method and revamping the current legal immigration system. Some Republicans are wary of the hardline elements of Trump's plan and it's unclear whether his blueprint could pass Congress.
"Americans are dreamers too," Trump said, in an apparent effort to reclaim the term used to describe the young immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
A former New York Democrat, the president also played to the culture wars that have long illuminated American politics, alluding to his public spat with professional athletes who led protests against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, declaring that paying tribute to the flag is a "civic duty."
Republicans led multiple rounds of enthusiastic applause during the speech, but for the opposition party it was a more somber affair. Democrats provided a short spurt of polite applause for Trump as he entered the chamber, but offered muted reactions throughout the speech. A cluster of about two dozen Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, remained planted firmly in their seats, staring sternly at the president and withholding applause.
After devastating defeats in 2016, Democrats are hopeful that Trump's sagging popularity can help the party rebound in November's midterm elections. In a post-speech rebuttal, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was seeking to undercut Trump's optimistic tone and remind voters of the personal insults and attacks often leveled by the president.
"Bullies may land a punch," Kennedy said. "They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future."
The arc of Trump's 80-minute speech featured the personal stories of men and women who joined first lady Melania Trump in the audience. The guests included a New Mexico policeman and his wife who adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, and Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea and outspoken critic of the Kim Jong-un government.
On international affairs, Trump warned of the dangers from "rogue regimes," like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, and "rivals" like China and Russia "that challenge our interests, our economy and our values." Calling on Congress to lift budgetary caps and boost spending on the military, Trump said that "unmatched power is the surest means of our defense."
Trump's biggest foreign policy announcement of the night concerned the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which former President Barack Obama tried but failed to close. Reversing Obama's policy, Trump said he'd signed an executive order Tuesday directing the Pentagon to keep the prison open while re-examining the military's policy on detention.
Trump said he was also asking Congress to ensure the U.S. had needed powers to detain Islamic State group members and other "terrorists wherever we chase them down," though it was unclear whether he was referring to a new war powers authorization or some other mechanism. Trump also said he wanted Congress to pass a law ensuring U.S. foreign aid goes only "to America's friends" — a reference to his frustration at U.S. aid recipients that voted at the U.N. to rebuke his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Mrs. Trump arrived at the Capitol ahead of her husband to attend a reception with guests of the White House, but she rode back to the White House with him. It was the first time she was seen publicly with the president following a report that his lawyer arranged a payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, to prevent her from talking about an alleged affair. Daniels denied the affair in a new statement released hours before the speech.
The New Hampshire all-female, all-Democrat delagation responded to President Trump's very first State of the Union address:
Senior Senator Jeanne Shaheen released a statement saying President Trump needs to be less talk and more action on critical issues likes the opioid epidemic:
“I appreciate the attention the President devoted to the opioid crisis in his remarks this evening, but words are not enough. I was proud to have Jeanne Moser, who tragically lost her son to a fentanyl overdose and has done so much to raise awareness about substance use disorders, as my guest to help highlight the urgent need for help in New Hampshire and across the country to respond to this crisis. The President must finally begin fulfilling his promise to deliver treatment resources. Over the past year, President Trump has only devoted lip service to respond to the opioid epidemic. Instead of any meaningful action, the Trump administration has made numerous attempts to undermine existing programs that have proven to be critical in battling this crisis in New Hampshire. I continue to stand ready and willing to work with the President to deliver these resources that are so needed. The urgency of this lifesaving effort cannot be overstated.
“The President was right to address the desperate state of our aging infrastructure. I believe this is an area where Republicans and Democrats can work across the aisle, and I encourage President Trump to deliver an ambitious plan to Congress that provides the resources to begin these critical upgrades and repairs. Granite Staters are becoming all too familiar with crumbling roads and bridges, and water and wastewater systems, that have far outlasted their intended use."
Senator Maggie Hassan echoed Senator Shaheen's sentiments:
“While President Trump touched on many important issues tonight, we’ve unfortunately seen this script before from the President – lots of big promises, but little action to back them up. Since taking office, the President has delivered huge giveaways to corporate special interests and the ultra-wealthy, but he has not come through for middle class families or for communities reeling from the devastating opioid crisis. That’s why what really counts is not his words, but what he does tomorrow and in the days that follow.
“I brought McKenzie Harrington-Bacote, who works to prevent substance misuse and support Laconia students impacted by the opioid crisis, as my guest of honor to the President’s speech in order to highlight the importance of getting more resources to those on the front lines of this devastating crisis. While I appreciate that the President spoke about the importance of stepping up efforts to combat this crisis, he once again failed to lead in calling for more federal resources to strengthen treatment, prevention, recovery, and law enforcement efforts. Struggling families and communities don’t need words, they need real help.
“The President also discussed the need to rebuild our highways, roads, and bridges, another issue where there could be real bipartisan common ground. As a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I look forward to working in a bipartisan way to evaluate the Administration’s proposal and ensure that it would actually meet the needs of New Hampshire, not simply pass the buck to local communities.” “No matter what the President says or does, I will continue to work with members of both parties to expand economic opportunity and support innovative businesses, step up efforts to combat the opioid crisis, and keep our country safe, secure, and free.”
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter said the Trump administration continues to deeply divide the country:
“After his Joint Address last year, I said that President Trump had created deep divisions in our country and disregarded our shared values: tolerance for religious and ethnic diversity, freedom of the press, good health and opportunity for working families, the well-being of our beautiful planet, and the rule of law. That was only 40 days into his presidency. A year later, it’s clear that nothing has changed.
“The President needs to stop throwing red meat to his base and stink bombs to the rest of us if he wants to get anything constructive done. I was saddened and alarmed that the President used this opportunity to spout hateful and xenophobic rhetoric that is far from the uplifting image of America, the shining city on a hill.
“America is the greatest country on earth, but the constant lying, the scandals, and the dangerous policies coming from the White House do harm to our people and environment, imperil our democracy, and erode confidence in our institutions. He continues to endanger our national security.
“I am also deeply concerned about what President Trump did not say tonight. There was no roadmap to a better future. He did not ask Congress for emergency funding to combat the deadly opioid epidemic that is devastating our communities. And he did not ask Congress for new legislation to improve veterans’ access to quality healthcare or invest in VA medical centers. We need to find a way forward and pass a long-term budget agreement that fully funds critical national priorities such as infrastructure, health care for veterans, national security, our military, the opioid crisis, funding for community health centers, and disaster funding.”
Congresswoman Annie Kuster was a bit less critical of the President's first year, but like Senator Shaheen, would like to see more action taken:
“Tonight President Trump discussed several issues important to the Granite State, including efforts to take on the opioid epidemic and the need to improve our aging infrastructure. Unfortunately, it’s long past time the President put actions to his words on both of these critical issues. Declaring the opioid epidemic a national health emergency was the right thing to do, but without funding it’s a meaningless gesture. As the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, I’m working to make real progress on this crisis and just last week 50 members of the Task Force wrote to President Trump urging him to work with Congress to appropriate the funding necessary to bolster prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts as well as support law enforcement.
"We need to fix red listed bridges, aging roads, airports, railroads, and deteriorating infrastructure to create jobs, increase public safety, and boost our economic competitiveness in New Hampshire and across the country. Far too many people in New Hampshire lack access to adequate internet services, and any 21st Century infrastructure plan must expand broadband in rural communities. As I’ve learned, the devil is in the details and I will closely examine President Trump’s infrastructure proposal and look for opportunities to work across the aisle on behalf of all Granite Staters.”
NH1 News contributed to this report.