January 31, 2018 14:02
U.S. President Donald Trump called for unity and touted what he sees as accomplishments on foreign policy and the economy, during his first State of the Union address on Tuesday.
"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," Trump said.
During an 80-minute speech, Trump called for lawmakers to pass his proposal for overhauling the country's immigration system and revamping the country's infrastructure.
On foreign policy, Trump promised a tougher stance, saying he would work to address the "fundamental flaws" in the Iran nuclear deal and show "total American resolve" in dealing with North Korea.
"Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of the past administrations that got us into this dangerous position," Trump said.
"He was trying to paint a picture of a successful first year," said Steven Pifer, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings Institution. "He claimed a lot of credit for the good economic performance. Some of that credit, of course, goes to President Obama, his predecessor. And then, he laid out his agenda, although in very broad strokes."
The speech lacked the trademark personal attacks that Trump frequently directs at his critics. But many Democrats in the chamber appeared unimpressed, jeering at several points.
Outside the Capitol, at least 100 protesters gathered in subfreezing temperatures, shouting obscenities and waving a lighted sign reading "LIAR" as the presidential motorcade passed by.
After a year in office, Trump's approval rating stands at 39 percent, according to the respected FiveThirtyEight polling average. That is lower than any other modern president at this stage of their first term.
According to Pifer, the speech may have done well with his base but not the broader public. "There weren't really developed ideas for how to move forward, it was sort of a laundry list of ideas but without specific substance. So people listening to that speech aren't going to have a good clue as to what his priorities are, what he's going to push and how he's going to achieve some of the goals he set out."
The Democratic boos were particularly loud when Trump laid out his immigration plan, which involves eliminating family-based migration and the visa lottery in favor of what the White House calls a merit-based program.
"It is time to reform these outdated immigration rules, and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century," Trump said. "These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise, and one that will create a safe, modern and lawful immigration system."
Trump pointed out that he supports a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, as part of a package that also includes funding for a border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Congress is divided over legislation addressing the plight of undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. The Trump administration plans to end the program, known as DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in March.
Some Democratic lawmakers invited the young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, to attend the speech. That prompted some Republicans to ask U.S. Capitol Police to conduct ID checks and arrest any illegal immigrants present. There is no indication Capitol Police followed through on the request.
◆ Economic progress
Trump's speech touted the economic gains made during his first year in office. "Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone," Trump said. "After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages."
In laying out his 2018 agenda, Trump called on Congress to work with him to pass legislation to repair U.S. roads, bridges and airports. During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a "trillion-dollar" infrastructure program -- language that appealed to many Democrats who favor government spending on such projects.
But Trump made clear that his infrastructure plan would rely at least in part on public-private partnerships -- not solely government spending. "Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment," Trump said.
◆ Foreign Policy
While the bulk of Trump's comments focused on domestic concerns, a large part of his speech centered on North Korea. North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program "could very soon threaten our homeland," Trump warned. "We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening."
Among those present at the speech were the parents and siblings of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who died last year after being convicted of crimes against the state in Pyongyang. "Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto's memory with total American resolve," Trump told the family.
In total, Trump dedicated over 30 sentences of the speech to North Korea -- far more space than he gave any other foreign policy topic. By comparison, Iran, another foreign policy priority, got just three sentences.
"America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom," Trump said of the recent anti-government protests in Iran.
Trump also noted that he is asking Congress to address the "fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal." Earlier this month, Trump preserved the Iran nuclear deal, but said it was his last time to do so unless it was made tougher. Iran has said it will not renegotiate the agreement.
The president also announced the signing of an executive order that keeps open detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. It is not unusual for State of the Union address to be more focused on domestic issues. But the President missed an opportunity to lay out a clear strategy on the North Korea and other foreign policy areas says Mark Simakovsky, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "A lot of things that he said didn't match with some of his own policy pronouncements. For example on Russia which his Administration has labeled as a "threat" and he was only willing to call a "risk."
◆ Democratic Response
The official Democratic response to Trump's speech was delivered by Joe Kennedy, a Massachusetts congressman seen as a rising star within the party. Kennedy took aim at Trump's proposals targeting Muslims, transgender people, and others, saying many Americans spent the past year "anxious, angry and afraid."
"We all feel the fault lines of a fractured country. We hear the voices of Americans who feel forgotten and forsaken," Kennedy said.
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