Emphasizing unity amid fierce opposition to his presidency, President Trump urged a join session of a divided Congress gathered for his State of the Union address Tuesday night to “choose greatness,” putting citizens and the country first above their political ambitions.
Trump said many are “hoping we will govern not as two parties, but as one nation.”
The agenda he laid out during his address, he said, is not a Republican agenda or a Democratic agenda but an “agenda of the American people.”
“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solution and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” he said. “The decision is ours to make.
He decried Democrats’ celebration of New York’s new expansive abortion law and, amid the popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the downfall of Venezuela, vowed that America “will never become a socialist nation.”
Trump noted the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Europe and honored three veterans of World War II in attendance. Recalling the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, he honored astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
“In the 20th century, America saved freedom, transformed science, and redefined the middle class standard of living for the entire world to see,” he said.
“Now, we must step boldly and bravely into the next chapter of this great American adventure, and we must create a new standard of living for the 21st century.”
The five major themes were building a safe and legal immigration system, protecting U.S. workers via trade, rebuilding America’s infrastructure, lowering health-care costs and pursuing a foreign policy that puts America first.
The speech was originally scheduled for Jan. 29. After a back-and-forth battle with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump agreed to postpone it until the partial shutdown ended. It was only the second State of the Union address to be postponed. President Ronald Reagan postponed the speech in 1986 by a week following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Rasmussen’s daily presidential tracking poll ahead of the speech Tuesday indicated 48 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s performance in the White House, with 51 percent disapproving.
Prior to the address, Trump hosted the traditional off-the-record lunch with journalists from top establishment media outlet, Politico reported.
The guest list features CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and David Muir, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie and Lester Holt, CBS’s Margaret Brennan, PBS’s Judy Woodruff, Fox News’ Chris Wallace and Martha MacCallum and C-SPAN’s Steve Scull.
David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network also attended.
Politico noted Trump hosted the lunch despite his ongoing criticism of “fake news” media and the leaking of details of an off-the-record lunch with TV anchors last month.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Monday in an interview she hoped Americans would not watch the address.
“The state of the union under him has not been good, and he has been divisive, and I think he’s putting us all in harm’s way,” she said. “And so he is not worthy of being listened to.”
First lady Melania Trump was joined by 13 guests in her box, who, the White House said, “come from all different walks of life, and each has an incredible story to tell.”
Debra Bissell, Heather Armstrong and Madison Armstrong are the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Gerald and Sharon David who were “tragically murdered in their home in Nevada by an illegal immigrant in January 2019.”
“Not one more American life should be lost because our nation failed to control its very dangerous border,” Trump said.
Alice Johnson, who was sentenced to life in prison as a first-time, non-violent drug offender, was granted clemency by President Trump after Kim Kardashian West intervened.
Trump said he was “deeply moved” last year when he heard Johnson’s story.
She became a prison minister, “inspiring others to choose a better path,” Trump said.
“Alice’s story underscores the disparities and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing – and the need to remedy this injustice.”
America is a nation that “believes in redemption,” Trump said.
Another guest, Ashley Evans, is a recovering opioid addict who suffered relapse during pregnancy. Matthew Charles was the first prisoner released as a result of the prison-reform First Step Act.
Among others was Joshua Trump, a sixth grader who was bullied over his last name.
Among House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s guests were transgender U.S. Army officers Capt. Jennifer Peace and Maj. Ian Brown; Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood; and Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union.
Most House Democrats, including Pelosi, wore white to promote a message of economic security for women and families, according to the office of Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., chairwoman of the Democratic Women’s Working Group. The color is historically associated with the suffragette movement.
Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry was the “designated survivor,” meaning he was at an undisclosed location and would have assumed the presidency in the event of a catastrophic attack on the Capitol.
‘Moral duty’ to protect border
Trump noted there are only 10 days left to resolve the impasse over border-barrier funding.
“We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens,” he said, alluding to Pelosi’s declaration that a border wall is “an immorality.”
“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political classes than illegal immigration,” he said.
“Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”
Referencing vows by some Democratic leaders to eliminate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, he pledged, “I will never abolish our ICE heroes.”
The 35-day partial-government shutdown centered on Democrats’ opposition to Trump’s $5.7 billion request for a little more than 200 miles of additional border barrier.
Trump has put the odds on reaching a border deal at less than “50-50.” He indicated Friday he could bypass Congress and declare a national emergency at the border to secure funding for the wall. Democrats have expressed willingness to expand on a $1.6 billion proposal for border security programs but won’t provide any funding for a barrier.
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built,” Trump said. “I’ll get it built.”
He called for “a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall.”
“It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down,” he said.
He noted a wall has virtually ended illegal crossings in San Diego and El Paso, which was once one of the nation’s most dangerous cities.
El Paso now is one of the safest cities in the nation.
“Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” Trump said. “So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.”
Calling an open border a threat to the safety, security and financial well being of all Americans, he said he will send 3,750 troops to the border with Mexico.
Legal immigrants, who follow the rules, he said, “strengthen our society.”
He said tolerance for illegal immigration “is not compassionate — it is cruel.”
“One in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north. Smugglers use migrant children as human pawns to exploit our laws and gain access to our country,” he said. “Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.”
The Democratic Party response was delivered by Stacey Abrams, who lost the Georgia gubernatorial race in November.
“America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants — not walls,” said Abrams.
“Even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems — I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and respect the extraordinary diversity that defines America.”
Economy ‘just getting started’
Trump said the economic recovery of the past two years is “just getting started.”
“We have unleashed a revolution in American energy — the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world,” he said.
For the first time in 65 years, Trump added, the U.S. is a net exporter of energy.
Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades, and nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps.
African-American and Hispanic unemployment are at the lowest levels ever recorded, as is unemployment among Americans with disabilities.
A record total of 157 million people are now working.
He also noted the passage of a “massive” tax cut and the doubling of the child tax credit.
In addition, under his administration, Congress virtually ended the death tax on small businesses, ranches and family farms. And he noted the elimination of “the very unpopular” Obamacare mandate penalty.
“After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is again winning each and every day,” he said.
“To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount: reversing decades of calamitous trade policies,” said Trump.
The only thing that can stop America’s recovery, he said, are “foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations,” referring to the special counsel probe of alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia in the 2016 election.
He urged the Senate to move on nominations that have been years in the waiting.
Women in the workforce
Trump said no one has benefited more from the thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year.
The statement drew a standing ovation from the Democrats’ large delegation of women dressed in white.
“You weren’t supposed to do that,” Trump quipped. “Thank you very much.”
The president said “all Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.”
Smiling, he then told the female Democratic lawmakers: “Don’t sit yet. You’ll like this.”
He pointed out that “exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.”
Trump said that as part of his administration’s commitment to improving opportunity for women, this Thursday it is launching the first ever “government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.”
Reversing ‘decades of calamitous trade policies’
Trump said that to build on America’s economic success, it’s essential to reverse “decades of calamitous trade policies.”
He’s making it clear to China “that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.”
The U.S. recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, he noted, and “now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars a month from a country that never gave us a dime.”
He said, however, the blame should not be pinned on China but on American leaders.
“I have great respect for President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China. But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs.”
He mentioned the end of NAFTA and the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, designed to bring back manufacturing jobs, expand American agriculture, protect intellectual property and ensure that more cars are made in the USA.
He asked Congress to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, “so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the same product that they sell to us.”
Trump said both parties should be able “to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
He called for further legislation to bring down drug prices.
“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it,” he said.
Trump said that already, through his administration’s efforts, 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.
“But we must do more. It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it.”
Trump is asking Congress to pass legislation requiring drug companies, insurance companies and hospitals “to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.”
“No force in history has done more to advance the human condition than American freedom,” he said, pointing to “remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS.”
“My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.”
He also is asking Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund the fight against childhood cancer.
Joining his wife in the gallery was 10-year-old Grace Eline, who was diagnosed with brain cancer. While undergoing radiation treatment, Grace raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer.
Trump said there could be “no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days,” recalling New York’s controversial abortion law.
“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” he said. “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth.”
Trump said he’s asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.
“Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life,” he said. “And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.”
‘America will never be a socialist country’
Trump touted the rebuilding of the military, with $700 million in the budget last year and $716 billion this year. In addition, he said, “we have secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies.”
“Under my administration, we will never apologize for advancing America’s interests,” he said.
He pointed to the recent announcement of U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty, because of Russian violations.
Trump also announced a new development in diplomacy with North Korea. He will meet again with Kim Jong Un, Feb. 27 and 28, this time in Vietnam.
Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized Juan Guaido as the president of Venezuela while socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro clings to power.
“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump said.
He addressed the new Democratic Party stars such as Ocasio-Cortez, who are proposing socialist policies.
“Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” Trump said. “America was founded on liberty and independence – not government coercion, domination, and control.
“We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
He turned to Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. troops have been fighting for nearly 19 years, and recalled his campaign pledge for a “new approach.
“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said.
He said it’s time “to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home” and reach a political settlement in Afghanistan.
His administration is “holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban.”
“As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism,” he said. “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”
He noted the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal along with tough sanctions.
“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people,” he said. “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”
Trump honored a SWAT officer wounded in the anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh. One of the survivors, Judah Samet, also survived Nazi concentration camps.
After 10 months in a concentration camp, he and his family were put on a train and told they were going to another camp.
“Suddenly the train screeched to a halt. A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the worst,” Trump said. “Then, his father cried out with joy: ‘It’s the Americans.’
A second Holocaust survivor in the audience, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau Concentration Camp.
“He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks. ‘To me,’ Joshua recalls, ‘the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky.'”
Trump pointed out that one of the World War II soldiers he honored earlier in the speech, Herman Zeitchik, was one of the American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau.
“He was one of the Americans who helped rescue Joshua from that hell on earth. Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight — seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom. Herman and Joshua: your presence this evening honors and uplifts our entire nation.”
Their cause, he said, was “this nation, and generations yet unborn.”
“Why did they do it? They did it for America — they did it for us,” he said.
“Everything that has come since — our triumph over communism, our giant leaps of science and discovery, our unrivaled progress toward equality and justice — all of it is possible thanks to the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before,” said the president.
He asked the lawmakers: “What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?”
Trump urged them “to choose whether we are defined by our differences — or whether we dare to transcend them.”
He said it’s “time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots.”
“This is our future — our fate — and our choice to make. I am asking you to choose greatness.”
“We must keep America first in our hearts. We must keep freedom alive in our souls. And we must always keep faith in America’s destiny — that one nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world!”