Trump calls for unity, but pushes GOP agenda in State of the Union speech


January 30, 2018

President Donald Trump steps to the podium to begin his State of the Union address to joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan 30, 2018. Behing President Teump are Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. – Pablo Martinez Mosivais/AP

January 30, 2018

President Donald Trump steps to the podium to begin his State of the Union address to joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan 30, 2018. Behing President Teump are Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. – Pablo Martinez Mosivais/AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump used his first State of the Union Address to send two conflicting messages at once — to celebrate the results of his combative and deeply partisan first year, and to call upon Democrats to join him to work together in his second.

“I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” Trump said at the start of the speech, made to a joint session of Congress.

But Trump’s nearly 90-minute long speech also lingered on a subject that is at the heart of Washington’s divisions: immigration. Trump cast the issue as one of safety, saying that “open borders” allowed by past administrations had allowed street gangs to thrive and cost Americans their lives. He offered a plan to let “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — stay and become citizens, but also rejected the idea that their needs should take priority. “Americans are dreamers, too,” he said.

The speech did not mention the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign, nor the effort by Republicans in Congress to attack Trump’s investigators with a secret memo alleging misdeeds at the Justice Department. Trump only mentioned Russia — whose interference in the 2016 campaign set off the probe — once.

There were few disruptions in the chamber. Some Democrats hissed or groaned during Trump’s comments about immigration, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus — some of Trump’s most ardent critics on the Hill — sat stone-faced while Trump talked about historically low rates African American unemployment.

Some of the most enthusiastic Democrats in the crowd were senators from states where Trump won in 2016, including Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Doug Jones (Ala.).

Touting success

Trump opened his speech by making the case that his first year in office has been an enormous success, noting continuing declines in the unemployment rate, a large tax cut, and cutbacks in federal regulations. He touted his nationalist agenda on trade — which has produced little tangible results so far — as setting a tone that the world had noticed.

“Our nation has lost it’s wealth,” Trump said. “But we’re getting it back so fast.”

Trump touted the GOP’s huge new tax-cut bill, saying that many Americans would start seeing more tax-home pay soon.

“Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses,” Trump said, speaking about a bill passed with only Republican votes. He celebrated the end of a provision from President Obama’s health-care law, which required many Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a tax. “The individual mandate is now gone. Thank heavens.”

Trump pointed out small business owners from Ohio, who he said had just had the best year in the 20-year history of their business. Because of tax reform, he said, their business is expanding its space and hiring new workers.

“This, in fact, is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,” he said. Speaking to viewers at home: “This is your time …. Together, we can achieve absolutely anything.”

Republicans in the House chambers cheered Trump’s remarks, while many Democrat sat silent and motionless.

Trump’s celebration of the GOP’s tax bill came just after a section of his speech in which he implored Democrats to work together with him, saying that America’s needs required bipartisan cooperation.

Trump began his speech with an appeal to unity, lauding heroes from the biggest calamities of 2017 — hurricanes, forest fires and mass shootings — as an example that a divided nation might come together.

“It is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy,” said Trump. “Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.”

Immigration reform

Trump also used his speech to lay out details of an immigration reform deal he had offered several days earlier, which offered citizenship for “dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — in return for increased spending on border security and large cuts in legal immigration levels.

But he sought to repurpose the term “dreamer,” saying that it shouldn’t be an excuse to shortchange Americans’ economic prospects or safety.

Trump also used his speech to frame the fight over immigration as largely a fight over safety — saying that previous administrations’ policies have “caused the loss of many innocent lives.”

“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too,” Trump said.

He pointed to guests in his box as examples of the threat posed by MS-13, a criminal gang active in both the United States and Central America. Trump’s guests will include a federal immigration agent who has investigated the gang, and two sets of parents whose children were killed by MS-13 members.

More than 50 Democratic lawmakers have invited “dreamers” to attend as guests to dramatize their demand for legal status. In response, Republican Rep. Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) tweeted that he had asked the Capitol Police to check all guests’ IDs, and arrest “any illegal aliens in attendance.”

The president continued to make the national security argument, touting the efforts to keep the nation safe from terrorism, while calling for more military spending.

Trump announced he had formally canceled plans to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

“We must be clear. Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants,” Trump said, in explaining the decision. The facility, first established in 2002, holds 41 remaining terrorism suspects. “And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.”

President Obama had signed an order to close the facility in 2009, but he had failed to do so because of political opposition to trying detainees in the United States. Trump had long promised to keep the facility open.

He also called on Congress to remove the limit on military spending enacted under the budget sequestration of 2013.

The president also addressed the threat posed by North Korea, saying his administration was waging a “campaign of maximum pressure” to prevent North from arming itself with nuclear missiles that could threaten the United States. But he said little about what options he was considering, in his first State of the Union address Tuesday.

“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” Trump said. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position.”

Earlier in the day, The Washington Post reported that Trump’s choice for ambassador to South Korea — Georgetown University Professor Victor Cha — was no longer under consideration, in part because Cha opposed a plan for military strikes under consideration by Trump’s advisers. That plan, known as a “bloody nose” strike, envisions a limited U.S. attack on North Korean sites, which in theory would deter North Korea from future provocations but not trigger an all-out war.

In an op-ed written in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Cha himself wrotethat the risks of escalation from such a strike were too high — either for South Korea or for the U.S., which has more than 200,000 citizens in South Korea.

“The president would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-size U.S. city — Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati — on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of U.S. kinetic power,” Cha wrote.

The issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election — and a special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible contacts with Russian — have dominated Washington’s discourse in the last few days. The only mention of Russia in Trump’s address so far was in a line that called the country a “rival,” along with China.

“Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values,” Trump said. “In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.”

Democratic response

There will be two official Democratic responses , one in English and one in Spanish. The English response, given by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), will say that Trump is “targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection,” and call attention to growing income inequality, according to excerpts released Tuesday evening. A Democratic America, Kennedy will say, would be “brave enough to admit that top CEOs making 300 times the average worker is not right.”

The Spanish response, given by Virginia state Del. Elizabeth Guzman, will attack Trump for ending the deferred-action program and putting hundreds of thousands in danger of deportation. “These people have acted in accordance with the law, they have paid taxes,” Guzman will say, according to excerpts. “The President has also failed in his duty to protect our families in Puerto Rico who were affected by hurricane Maria. This is unjust. This is unacceptable.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an independent who ran as a Democrat in 2016, will also give his own rebuttal.

Courtesy/Source: Washington Post