In Powerful State of the Union, President Trump Unifies Nation, Pushes Path Forward for Country

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

In his second State of the Union address, President Donald Trump offered a path forward for a divided nation–unifying even his fiercest critics behind at least some of what he is trying to do.

At key moments throughout the address, Trump was able to appeal to Democrats–who have taken control of the House of Representatives with a new majority the country elected in November–earning cheers from both sides of the aisle and a standing ovation from the whole chamber at the end of his address.

His speech also rallied his base with key lines on immigration, investigations, abortion, and the economy, so Trump accomplished both goals he set out to do with the address: Unify the country at this particularly divisive place in political history and keep his own team engaged in the battles ahead. He also laid out an ambitious agenda going forward that he argues is nonpartisan, on everything from fighting cancer and HIV to stopping drug abuse to combating extremism and so much more.

In addition, Trump showed his personality in moments where women in the chamber–dressed in white to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote–stood for a key part of his speech and when the chamber sang “Happy Birthday” to an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor and guest of the president and first lady Melania Trump.

Perhaps the most powerful, unifying, and humbling moment of the speech was when the women in white–many of them freshman Democrats just elected this past cycle in the Democrats’ historic sweep into power–stood for Trump and applauding his remarks.

After wrapping up a section of the speech in which he pushed for a border wall, which he again promised he will build, Trump made a plea for bipartisanship.

“So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe,” Trump said, before shifting into discussing the continuance of America’s ” economic resurgence” that his administration has facilitated, something he said must keep going “at a rapid pace.

“No one has benefitted more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year,” Trump said.

At that point, the women in white stood and cheered Trump’s economic successes for women with the rest of the chamber–and Trump looked their way and ad-libbed.

“You were not supposed to do that,” the president said to the Democrat women, joking about how Democrats were not supposed to cheer Trump policies. “Thank you very much. Thank you very much.”

The women sat down and then Trump, in his next line, celebrated women in the workforce at record numbers during his administration.

“All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before,” Trump said, before telling them not to sit given what was coming next.

“Don’t sit yet. You are going to like this,” Trump joked.

Then, Trump continued with his speech by noting that this is the hundredth anniversary of the women’s right to vote.

“And 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.

When Trump finished that line, it was Speaker Nancy Pelosi who led the standing ovation of the women in the chamber behind the president, gesturing for them to stand with her and applaud his speech:

That was hardly the only major moment in Trump’s speech that earned bipartisan reaction from the chamber. Later, when Trump was discussing two Holocaust survivors he and the first lady invited as their guests–as well as an American soldier who helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp at which one was being held during World War II–the president mentioned that it was a survivor’s 81st birthday. The chamber united to sing “Happy Birthday!”:

After the members stopped singing, Trump joked that he would never get such a reception from Congress on his birthday.”

“They would not do that for me, Judah,” Trump said to the man.

Outside of these particular humanizing moments, though, Trump put forward an ambitious agenda for his next two years in office–two years where he must work with the Democrats who now control the House–ahead of his re-election campaign in 2020.

“We meet tonight at a moment of unlimited potential,” Trump said.

As we begin a new Congress, I stand here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for all Americans. Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now, gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one Nation. The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda. It is the agenda of the American people.

The president, while discussing socialism hurting Venezuela, earned a scowl from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)–who describes himself as a socialist–for committing that the United States will never become socialist.

“Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” Trump said.

Trump addressed the looming funding deadline, 10 days away on February 15, where the government may shut down again after the just-concluded longest shutdown in history over the Democrats’ refusal to fund his planned wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

“Now, Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis,” Trump said, adding:

Congress has ten days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border. Now is the time for Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.

The president detailed the threat of illegal immigration–and particularly the caravans that bore down upon the border–next.

“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the March to the United States,” Trump said. He continued:

We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection. I have ordered another 3750 troops to our southern border to prepare for this tremendous onslaught. This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well-being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today who follow the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways.

His next line was curious, as he said he wants the largest number of legal immigrants to come into the country ever.

“I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally,” Trump said. “Tonight, I’m asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and our country. No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working-class and America’s political class than illegal immigration.” He went on to say, “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards”:

But after that line, Trump was right back on track on his message on the threats of unfettered illegal immigration to American citizens, noting that America’s working class pays the price in more ways than one.

“Meanwhile, working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal immigration, reduced to jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools, hospitals that are so crowded you can’t get in, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net,” Trump said. The president continued:

Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate, it is actually very 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. 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.

Trump then welcomed an Angel Family who joined his and the first lady’s other guests in the gallery, to highlight how many Americans have lost loved ones in murders and killings committed by illegal aliens. The surviving family members have become known as the Angel Families, or Angel Moms and Dads.

“Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl,” Trump said, adding:

The savage gang MS-13 now operates in at least 20 different American states and they almost all come through our southern border. Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City. We are removing these gang members by the thousands, but until we secure our border, they are going to keep streaming right back in. Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens. I’ve gotten to know many wonderful Angel Moms and Dads and families. No one should ever have to suffer the horrible heartache that they have had to endure. Here tonight is Deborah Bissell, just three weeks ago her parents were burglarized and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada, home by an illegal alien. They were in their 80s and are survived by four children, 11 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren. Also here tonight are Gerald and Sharon’s granddaughter, Heather, and great-granddaughter, Madison. To Deborah, Heather, Madison, please stand. Few can understand your pain. Thank you and thank you for being here–very much:

The Congress applauded them, both sides–Republican and Democrat. Trump continued by saying he will “never forget” the story of Gerald and Sharon Bissell.

Then, Trump praised Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, noting in the past two years “ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4000 killings or murders,” and he welcomed ICE agent Elvin Hernandez–another guest–to the speech.

Hernandez legally immigrated with his family to the United States as a child and told his father as a kid that he wanted to become a special agent. “Today, he leads investigations into the scores of international sex trafficking,” Trump said, continuing:

He says that if I can make sure these young girls get their justice, I’ve really done my job. Thanks to his work and that his incredible colleagues, more than 300 women and girls have been rescued from the horror of this terrible situation and more than 1500 sadistic traffickers have been put behind bars.

Trump pledged to protect ICE from those who seek to abolish the agency.

“We will always support the brave men and women of law enforcement and I pledge to you tonight that I will never abolish our heroes from ICE,” Trump said.

Then, the president laid out his immigration plan, and how he has sent to Congress a proposal to solve the crisis on the border–and vowed again that he will build the wall.

“My administration has sent to the Congress a commonsense proposal to end the crisis on our southern border,” Trump said. “It includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.” He continued, “In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built. I’ll get it built.”

Next, he laid out how walls work.

“This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall,” Trump said. The president then stated:

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. San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in the country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings. The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities. Simply put, walls work, and walls save lives.

Immigration was hardly the only place where Trump stayed true to his core economic nationalist agenda.

“In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom, a boom that has rarely been seen before,” Trump said when speaking of the economy. “There has been nothing like it. We have created 5.3 million new jobs, and, importantly, added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs, something which almost everyone said was impossible to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started.”

He highlighted rising wages, and record low Hispanic, African American, and Asian American unemployment rates.

“Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades and growing for blue-collar workers, who I promise to fight for,” Trump said. Elaborating, he added:

They are growing faster than anyone else. Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps. [applause] the U.S. Economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office, and we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world. Not even close. Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in over half a century. African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded.

After noting that unemployment among Americans with disabilities is also at a record low and that his administration’s policies on tax cuts, tax credit increases, regulation rollbacks, including pushing back on Obamacare’s crushing effects on American health care, the passage of Right to Try and a new American energy policy that has led to the United States becoming a net exporter of energy for the first time in 65 years under his administration, Trump said to enormous applause in the chamber, “America is again winning each and every day. Members of Congress, the state of our union is strong.”

Members of Congress began chanting, like Trump’s supporters regularly do at rallies across the country, “USA! USA! USA!”

He pressed the Senate, too, to begin confirming the hundreds of nominees awaiting confirmation and celebrated his win late last year on criminal justice legislation. Then later in the speech, he laid out his battles with China on tariffs and, more generally, trade policy.

“To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount — reversing decades of calamitous trade policies,” Trump said, adding:

So bad. We are now 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. Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods — and now, our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars a month from — but I don’t blame China for taking advantage of us. I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen. I have great respect for President Xi [Jinping], 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. Another historic trade blunder was the catastrophe known as NAFTA. I have met the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other states whose dreams were shattered by NAFTA. For years, politicians promised them they would negotiate for a better deal. But no one ever tried — until now. Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement — or USMCA — will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers like they have not had delivered to for a long time. I hope you can pass the USMCA into law so we can bring back our manufacturing jobs in greater numbers, expand American agriculture, protect intellectual property, and ensure that more cars are proudly stamped with four beautiful words: “Made in the U.S.A.”

Trump pushed for bipartisan deals on infrastructure deal, drug prices, and paid family leave, before laying out his ardent opposition to abortion.

“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,” Trump said. He continued:

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 stated he would execute a baby after birth. To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the 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.

Trump firmly stated his administration’s commitment to the new post-Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela, laying out how socialism wrecked that country and calls for it in America are dangerous.

“Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” Trump said before vowing that the United States will never succumb to socialism. “America was founded on liberty and independence – not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.”

Also on the foreign policy front, Trump pushed for “endless wars” to finish.

“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years.” He elaborated to say:

In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion in the middle east. As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars. When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in iraq and Syria–just two years ago. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers. Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home. I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan. The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating. Our troops have fought with unmatched valor — and thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a political solution to this long and bloody conflict.

He bashed the “radical regime” in Iran and touted the withdrawal of the U.S. from the previous administration’s failed Iran nuclear deal while promoting sanctions his administration has imposed upon Iran.

“We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism or those who spread its venomous creed,” Trump added while discussing Iran. “With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”

That is when he thanked a SWAT team officer who attended the speech; he was shot multiple times responding to the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last year. Also present was Holocaust survivor Judah Samet, who survived the shooting, to whom the U.S. Congress sang “Happy Birthday” on his 81st birthday.

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