President Trump appealed for unity in his first State of the Union speech, declaring a “new American moment” even as many glum Democrats in the audience sat on their hands and refused to acknowledge economic gains or calls to honor veterans. While Trump held firm on his demands for border security and used the grand setting to tout his first-year accomplishments, his call for bipartisanship on the thorny immigration debate met with stonefaced stares from top Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“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,” he said. It remains unclear whether Democrats are ready to deal on immigration, but the issue could hang over a looming Feb. 8 deadline to pass a new spending bill. With that in mind, Trump used his 80-minute speech to signal a willingness to make bipartisan deals on second-year-agenda priorities like immigration as well as infrastructure. “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,” the president said.
The president described his recent offer on immigration as a “fair compromise” for both sides. The White House is pushing a plan to broaden eligibility for the DACA program – which gives a reprieve to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and which Trump is planning to end absent a legislative solution – in exchange for border wall funding and other big changes.
He described his offer of a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA recipients, or DREAMers.
“We presented the Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise — one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs and must have,” he said.
Even as he pushed for an immigration deal, the president didn’t stray from messaging aimed at his base. Trump said his “highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities.”
“Americans are dreamers too,” he said.
He also called on Congress to “finally close the deadly loopholes” that have allowed MS-13 to flourish inside the country. The president tackled national security toward the end of the speech, specifically warning that North Korea’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles” could “very soon” threaten the United States. “We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” he 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 dangerous position.”
During the speech, the president recognized the parents of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who died over the summer after being injured while imprisoned in North Korea, who attended Tuesday’s address. Vowing to fight terrorism, the president said he ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to re-examine the military’s detention policy toward terrorists and keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay. The president called for bipartisan cooperation on infrastructure, saying “together, we can reclaim our great building heritage.” He said every federal dollar for infrastructure projects should be “leveraged” by partnering with state and local governments and private sector investors for projects.
“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land, and we will do it with American heart, and American hands, and American grit,” Trump said.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore traditional kente cloth in protest of Trump’s reported comments about immigration from “s—hole countries.”
During the speech, some caucus members declined to stand even to honor a 12-year-old guest of the first family who was recognized for gathering flags for veterans’ graves. Trump praised Preston Sharp, a boy from California, who started a movement to place flags at the graves of fallen service members. “Preston’s reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem,” he said.
Trump’s comments were aimed at the NFL football players who have been kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against police shootings of African-Americans.
Democrats tapped Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., the grandson of Sen. Robert Kennedy, to deliver the party’s official response to Trump. In remarks before a small audience in Massachusetts, Kennedy said many in the country have spent Trump’s first year in office “anxious, angry, afraid.”
Trump, though, struck a positive and optimistic note in his speech, ending his address to Congress by saying: “Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery.”
“And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: The people dreamed this country,” Trump continued. “The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again.”