In an attempt to show America how far it has come in the first year of his presidency, President Trump praised his accomplishments in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night and listed new initiatives in his bold plan to build a "safe, strong and proud America."
As many as 40 million people were expected to watch President Trump's maiden address to America as the commander in chief took the floor of the House of Representatives.
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Despite an approval rating hovering around 40 percent, the president celebrated a list of his biggest achievements after only one year in office, from tax reform to defeating ISIS, slashing excessive regulations and ending the "war on American energy" and clean coal.
"Over the last year, we have made incredible progress and achieved extraordinary success," President Trump said. "We have faced challenges we expected, and others we could never have imagined. We have shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We endured floods and fires and storms. But through it all, we have seen the beauty of America's soul, and the steel in America's spine. ... 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.
"Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it. So let us begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our Union is strong because our people are strong."
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President Trump's guests Tuesday evening included family members of people murdered by MS-13, a Salvadoran gang, and a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent who investigates "transnational criminal organizations, including MS-13." First lady Melania's guests included veterans who fought ISIS, law enforcement authorities fighting America's opioid crisis and workers who expect to see a benefit from recently passed tax reform legislation.
Four of nine Supreme Court Justices attended Trump's first State of the Union address: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch.
Economy: The 'Trump bump'
Trump touted the booming stock market and his success in passing tax reform legislation at the end of 2017. He initiated tax reform, which in only a month has led to hundreds of companies giving bonuses, higher wages, the return of hundreds of billions of dollars in capital to the U.S. and the creation of 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 jobs in manufacturing.
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"After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages," Trump said.
Unemployment has dropped to about 4 percent, with the Dow soaring to record heights and growth once again exceeding 3 percent. The Dow plunged about 400 points Tuesday.
"Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history," Trump declared in his speech, adding that the "massive" tax cuts gave substantial relief to the middle class and small businesses.
"Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses – many of them thousands of dollars per worker," the president said.
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Trump said the nation is experiencing a "new American moment."
"There has never been a better time to start living the American dream," he said. "So to every citizen watching at home tonight – no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything. You can be anything. And together, we can achieve anything."
Health, 'right to try' and prescription drugs
The president referenced VA abuses of America's military veterans, and he called on Congress "to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers – and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people."
He noted that the FDA approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices in 2017 than ever before.
"We also believe that patients with terminal conditions should have access to experimental treatments that could potentially save their lives," Trump said. "People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure – I want to give them a chance right here at home. It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the 'right to try.'"
President Trump said one of his "greatest priorities" is to lower the prices of prescription drugs.
"In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States," he said. "That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down substantially. Watch."
President Trump said he wants immigration policy that makes America stronger and safer.
"Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families," Trump said. "For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives."
President Trump called on Congress to "finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country."
"The United States is a compassionate nation," he said. "We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world. 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. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.
"So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties – Democrats and Republicans – to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. 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's immigration proposals outlined in his first State of the Union speech could test the limits of his power over his own base of supporters. Trump has proposed a "pathway to citizenship" for up to 2 million illegal-immigrant "Dreamers" – which some Republicans claim is just another term for "amnesty" – in exchange for $25 billion in funding for immigration programs, building the border wall and improving border security.
According to the Trump administration, the plan is expected to end "chain migration" by no longer allowing citizens to sponsor parents, adult children or siblings who pursue green cards. Rather, immigrants will be allowed to sponsor only their spouses and minor children. The plan would also end the visa lottery program, which awards 50,000 green cards every year.
"The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age – that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration," Trump said. "Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States."
Some Republicans argue that Trump's plan to give citizenship rights to up to 2 million "Dreamers" undermines the rule of law. But 75 GOP lawmakers in the Republican Main Street Caucus said Tuesday that they support Trump's immigration proposal.
Nearly two-dozen Democratic lawmakers brought "Dreamers" as their personal guests to the State of the Union address. They also held a press conference with their illegal-immigrant guests before the president's speech began. Illegal immigrant and Huffington Post columnist Juan Escalante tweeted the following image of some "Dreamers" who were invited to attend the State of the Union.
Trump has said members of Congress have been talking about immigration reform for years but has "never gotten anything done." The president has said any immigration legislation must be bipartisan if it's to have any chance of passing.
The issue has been linked to Congress' negotiations over a spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had promised to consider immigration proposals in exchange for a vote to re-open the federal government through Feb. 8 after a three-day shutdown. But Trump has said "nobody knows" if Republicans and Democrats will actually reach an immigration deal by Feb. 8.
"For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem," Trump said during his speech. "This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen. ... [L]et us come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done."
"America is a nation of builders," Trump said. "We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road? I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.
"Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need."
During his campaign for president, Trump promised to rebuild America's aging bridges, roads, airports and other infrastructure. One of Trump's major initiatives is a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support investments in America's infrastructure. However, some of Trump's Democratic critics blasted the infrastructure plan, claiming it's "a blueprint for cronyism" and a giveaway to his wealthy friends. They also say it will roll back regulations intended to protect the environment.
"[S]ince [Trump] took the oath of office, Congress hasn't heard much about his plan, and what we have heard isn't promising," wrote Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in his Tuesday commentary published in the Washington Post. "… On Tuesday, if President Trump chooses a real, direct, federal investment in infrastructure, he will have a chance to pass an effective, bipartisan bill. We Democrats will gladly work with him on it. But if he caves to the hard right once again and proposes a scheme driven by private developers — a scheme that leaves out rural America and asks middle-class families to shoulder the costs — he'll have squandered an immense opportunity."
According to his $1.5 trillion plan, $200 billion in funding would come from federal spending while the rest would be from private investors and state and local governments. It's unclear where the $200 billion in federal funding will come from.
"Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one," Trump said in his speech. "Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit."
Trade: Ending 'unfair' practices
Trump's address also focused on trade, and the president's concerns that current trade agreements take advantage of America, the world's largest economy. He vowed to end unfair practices.
"America has finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs and our nation's wealth," Trump said. "The era of economic surrender is over.
"From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal," he continued. "We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules."
During his first day in office, President Trump pulled America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His administration is also attempting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. However, President Trump's State of the Union speech provided few specifics on his future trade plans.
America's drug addiction
In 2016, America lost 64,000 people to drug overdoses, or 174 deaths per day.
"We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge," President Trump said. "My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail. As we have seen tonight, the most difficult challenges bring out the best in America."
President Trump told a story involving the Holets family of New Mexico. Ryan Holets, 27-year-old officer with the Albuquerque Police Department, saw a pregnant, homeless woman about to inject herself with heroin.
"When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep," Trump said. "She told him she did not know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.
"In that moment, Ryan said he felt God speak to him: 'You will do it — because you can.' He took out a picture of his wife and their four kids. Then, he went home to tell his wife, Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.
"Ryan and Rebecca: You embody the goodness of our nation. Thank you, and congratulations."
The Trump administration says it is pursuing "peace through strength" by modernizing and shoring up America's armed forces. It also plans to modernize the nation's nuclear capabilities and ballistic missile defense systems.
"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. For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military."
President Trump noted that his administration is working to combat terrorism and has "almost completely defeated ISIS," which has lost almost all of the territory over which it had control in Iraq and Syria. The Trump administration also suspended aid to Pakistan to show that the U.S. expects assistance in fighting terror.
Nearly 800 MS-13 gang members in the U.S. have been arrested since Trump took office. And the administration has worked with authorities in Central American countries to charge approximately 4,000 MS-13 members.
The Trump administration also says it is confronting Iran over the threat of its nuclear program and "working to fix serious flaws" in the nuclear deal negotiated under Obama.
"As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression," Trump said. "Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet."
Trump also said he just signed an executive order directing U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis to "re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay."
Israel, the U.N. and America first
"Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before: I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said. "Shortly afterward, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America's sovereign right to make this recognition. American taxpayers generously send those same countries billions of dollars in aid every year.
"That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America's friends."
North Korean threat
"[N]o regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea," President Trump said. "North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.
"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 dangerous position. We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies."
Trump pointed to the case of Otto Warmbier, an American student studying at the University of Virginia who had joined a tour in North Korea. Warmbier, who was arrested and charged with crimes against the state, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. North Korea returned Warmbier to the U.S. in June last year, but he was on the brink of death. He died days after his return.
Warmbier's parents were present at the State of the Union address, along with brother, Austin, and sister, Greta.
"You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all," Trump said. "Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto's memory with American resolve."
Trump also told the story of Ji Seong-ho, who was a starving boy in North Korea in 1996. Seong-ho attempted to steal some coal so he could trade it for food. But he fainted on the train tracks because he was exhausted and starving. As he awoke, a train crushed his limbs.
The boy was forced to undergo amputations without medicine to numb his pain. His brother and sister gave him any food they had and ate dirt because they had no food. Seong-ho was tortured after he returned from China, because the North Koreans feared he had met Christians.
So Seong-ho traveled across China and Southeast Asia on crutches to escape. His family followed, but his father was captured and tortured to death.
Now Seong-ho lives in Seoul and rescues other defectors from North Korea.
"Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come," Trump said. "Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all. Seong-ho's story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.
"It was that same yearning for freedom that nearly 250 years ago gave birth to a special place called America. It was a small cluster of colonies caught between a great ocean and a vast wilderness. But it was home to an incredible people with a revolutionary idea: that they could rule themselves. That they could chart their own destiny. And that, together, they could light up the world. That is what our country has always been about. That is what Americans have always stood for, always strived for, and always done."
At least a dozen Democratic lawmakers chose to boycott Trump's big speech.
As WND reported, even many of Trump's detractors concede that the more than 170 accomplishments in the first 375 days or so of his administration line up with his stated campaign objectives. For his supporters, there's a Thank Trump campaign that allows them to pick out a thank-you card, add a message and send it directly to the White House at no cost.