President Donald Trump, in his first State of the Union address, claimed credit for fulfilling promises to slash taxes, eliminate regulations, install conservative judges and obliterate the Islamic State group on Tuesday night and extended an “open hand” towards bipartisanship during his second year to achieve immigration reform and infrastructure modernization.
Branding it as “our new American moment,” the president called on Congress to produce legislation that generates at least $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investments through state and local partnerships and embrace a grand compromise that would grant a pathway to legalization for young unauthorized immigrants known as “Dreamers” in exchange for border security and an end to chain migration.
But while Trump delivered the plodding, scripted speech almost verbatim from prepared text on a teleprompter, deep-seated doubts remained about the details of his plans and whether such a extraordinarily factional and unpopular figure had the discipline to stick to them once the pageantry of the evening wore off in the coming hours and days.
While the president floated a vague new idea to reduce the price of prescription drugs and encouraged Congress to pass legislation to ensure foreign aid “only go to America’s friends,” his most urgent task at hand was promoting a solution to the immigration stalemate.
With the threat of another government shutdown over the soon expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program just nine days away, Trump plugged a plan that he said “should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise — one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reform it needs.”
Trump was met with audible groans in the U.S. House chamber when he recited his proposal to end “chain migration,” which Democrats choose to call “family reunification” — a policy that allows relatives of an immigrant to join them in the country. Yet he sparked some cognitive dissonance moments later when he lauded a guest for fleeing North Korea, ignoring parallels between his actions and those of illegal immigrants who come to the U.S.
Democrats and even some Republicans are flatly against trading an extension of the DACA program as a vehicle to limit the flow of already legal immigration. Nonetheless, the president doubled down on his preference to end the visa lottery program and transition toward a merit-based immigration system based on skill and education levels.
This will be the thorniest difference to hammer out between the parties in the coming week before the current short-term government funding bill expires on Feb. 9.
“So let us come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done,” the president urged.
Shouldering a 39 percent approval rating, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Trump’s political capital will be put to the test. He even acknowledged earlier Tuesday that uniting the country is “not an easy thing to do because the views are so divergent.”
Another area Trump is hoping for bipartisanship is around rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and buildings.
“America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?” asked the former real estate developer. “I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, reliable and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.”
Trump made a similar call in his joint address to Congress last year, but it went nowhere due to an already crowded agenda that prioritized repeated attempts at repealing former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
But Democrats are already raising opposition to the structure of Trump’s infrastructure plan, which would rely on private companies, states or localities to pitch in a significant portion of the funding. Note that Trump did not request $1 trillion; he asked Congress for legislation that would generate such investment.
Writing in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said such an approach would end up leaving local taxpayers shouldering new tolls or fees.
“That would end up leaving out large parts of the country and most major, urgent projects,” Schumer wrote. “A plan based on private-sector gimmicks and giveaways would also result in tolls — Trump tolls — across the United States.”
Trump devoted a bulk of his speech championing a robust economy, citing 2.4 million new jobs since his election, unemployment claims hitting a 45-year low and 3 million Americans already having received bonuses as a result of the GOP-passed tax reform package.
Much of the Republican majorities’ survival in this November’s midterms will be tied to how popular the tax cuts become over the ensuing months. A CNBC survey found that workers are estimated to get just 12 cents of every dollar of additional savings from the corporate tax cut.
Still, Trump signaled Americans would begin seeing more tangible benefits soon.
“This April will be the last time you ever file under the old broken system — and millions of Americans will have more take-home pay starting next month,” he said.
The president took a victory lap on foreign policy and sought to emphasize a notable change from the prior administration in asserting aggression over complacency.
“I’m proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
He called North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear missiles “reckless” and promised “a campaign of maximum pressure” to prevent a threat against the homeland.
The speech was dotted with personal and also devastating stories of White House guests seated in the gallery: the first blind double amputee to reenlist in the Marine Corps, a policeman who adopted a baby from an opioid addict and parents of girls murdered by alleged members the MS-13 gang.
Left unmentioned was Russia or any inkling of the special counsel investigation probing election interference that is clouding his presidency.
On this night, Trump took a detour from his penchant for raw invective and unfiltered divisiveness to rally around, “one team, one people and one American family.”
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