Trump’s State of the Union: plea for unity, immigration policies, North Korea

Trump talked about border wall, restriction on family of legal immigrants, N Korea's leadership in address

Reuters January 31, 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018. REUTERS

WASHINGTON DC: President Donald Trump at his State of the Union address, on Tuesday urged bitterly divided Republicans and Democrats to work toward compromises on immigration and infrastructure after a bruising year of partisan battles that centered on Trump's leadership.

"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, in the chamber of the House of Representatives.

Plea for unity

Trump used the speech to try to overcome doubts about his presidency at a time when he is battling a probe into his campaign's alleged ties with Russia and suffering low job approval ratings. While the president called for bipartisanship, evidence of the deep divide between the parties was evident as he spoke.

Key points from Trump's State of the Union address

Republican lawmakers cheered wildly at the president's applause lines, while Democrats often sat in their seats silently. Trump took credit for US economic gains including a soaring stock market and a low jobless rate.

He boasted about the economic growth he believes will result from tax cuts Republicans pushed through Congress late last year. "This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream," he said.

Facing a deadline on an immigration controversy and strong Democratic opposition, Trump was calling for the type of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats that has eluded him during a rocky first year in office.

Hardline immigration policies

President Trump urged lawmakers to work toward bipartisan compromises, but pushed a hard line on immigration, insisting on a border wall and other concessions from Democrats as part of any deal to protect the children of illegal immigrants.

Ahead of Trump's speech, Democrats had said they hoped to see signs from the president that he would give ground on the contentious issue of whether to shield young immigrants known as 'Dreamers' from deportation.

But the president, aiming to keep conservative supporters happy as he looks to November congressional elections, stood by a set of principles opposed by Democrats, including the border wall with Mexico and new restrictions on how many family members that legal immigrants can bring into the United States.

Whether Trump would follow through on his appeal for bipartisan harmony was far from clear. The president's past attempts at a unifying message have been undermined by his later rancorous tweets and divisive statements that angered Democrats and frequently annoyed lawmakers in his own Republican Party.

The unity plea will first be put to the test in his drive for a compromise on protecting 1.8 million Dreamers – people brought illegally to the country as children - who face a March 5 deadline on whether they can begin to be deported.

US Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the longest-serving senator, said Trump's words about unity, after a year of "divisive actions, petty insults and disgraceful race-baiting ... ring hollow. Words cannot and will not repair the damage he already has done."

Trump said he was 'extending an open hand' for an immigration deal and that he would provide Dreamers a pathway to citizenship over 10 to 12 years in exchange for funding the border wall, which he promised during his campaign, and restrictions on legal immigration.

He called his plan a 'down-the-middle compromise,' but some Democrats hissed when he said he wanted to rein in 'chain migration,' the ability of legal immigrants to bring a wide-ranging number of family members into the country. "Let's come together, set politics aside and finally get the job done," Trump said.

Infrastructure plan

Trump took credit for US economic gains including a soaring stock market and a low jobless rate. He boasted about the economic growth he believes will result from tax cuts Republicans pushed through Congress late last year.

"This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream," he said. Trump said he would like a compromise over a plan to rebuild aging roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

He said he wanted legislation to generate at least $1.5 trillion through a combination of federal, state and local spending as well as private-sector contributions. "I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve," he said.

Market reaction was muted, with S&P 500 futures drifting higher, but investors saying there was little new for Wall Street in the speech. "Futures lifted a bit because it was not a negative speech. He was calm. He celebrated America. He avoided his own failures," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors in Chicago.

North Korea leadership, nuclear missile threat

Branding North Korea's leadership 'depraved,' President Donald Trump said Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear missiles could 'very soon threaten our homeland' and vowed a continued campaign of maximum pressure to keep that from happening.

Trump's tough rhetoric underscored persistent tensions despite recent talks between North and South Korea that led to Pyongyang's agreement to participate in next month's Winter Olympic games in South Korea.

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"North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland," the president said. "We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening."

"We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies," he said.

North-South negotiations earlier this month have eased fears of war on the Korean peninsula that were in part stoked by an exchange of insults and threats between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump and top advisers have publicly welcomed the talks but US officials have said privately that Pyongyang might be trying to drive a wedge between allies Washington and Seoul.

The Trump administration has repeatedly stressed its preference for a diplomatic solution to the Korea tensions while saying all options are on the table. But US officials have said internal debate on military action, including the possibility of a limited pre-emptive strike on a nuclear or missile site, has lost some momentum in recent weeks after the North-South talks ahead of ahead of the Olympics.




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