WASHINGTON — President Trump implored Congress Tuesday to move past political gridlock in favor of bipartisan cooperation before he dug in on the border security fight that threatens to shut down the government yet again.
“We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before,” Trump said during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
“But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.”
But while Trump opened his remarks to the now-divided Congress with a call for a new era of unity, he showed little willingness to compromise on some of his positions — including his stance on a border wall — that were central to fight that led to the last shutdown. Federal agencies could shutter yet again if lawmakers can’t reach a deal by their Feb. 15 deadline.
Democrats in North Carolina weren’t impressed by Trump’s speech. They accused the president of repeating rhetoric he’s used in the past and exacerbating the partisan divide that led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
Congressman David Price, who was joined in Washington by a federal worker impacted by the recent government shutdown, dismissed the speech as featuring a “hollow pledge of unity.” In a statement, Price stated that “In tonight’s State of the Union address, the nation heard President Trump, once again, deliver a hollow pledge for unity while employing lies, fear, and division to manufacture a political crisis. As we have repeatedly and unfortunately learned over the last two years, the President’s scripted remarks are often followed by unhinged twitter rants and a discriminatory agenda that undermines our collective values and further divides our nation.”
“While President Trump once again chose fear and division as his preferred path, House Democrats will continue to advance an agenda that moves our nation forward in a united way,” the statement concluded.
In Trump’s first address to Congress since Democrats clinched control of the House in the November elections, he called on lawmakers to choose “greatness” over “gridlock.” The speech, originally slated for late last month, was delayed as Trump sparred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the 35-day shutdown that ended in late January.
“Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis,” Trump said.“The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border.”
Pelosi slammed the speech as more of what the nation has come to expect from the President. In a statement, the Speaker said that “It will take days to fact-check all the misrepresentations that the President made tonight. Instead of fear-mongering and manufacturing a crisis at the border, President Trump should commit to signing the bipartisan conference committee’s bill to keep government open and provide strong, smart border security solutions.”
Despite congressional Democrats’ insistence that they won’t provide the $5 billion in funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, Trump doesn’t appear to be budging.
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” he said. “This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall.”
In an apparent effort to rally support for his position, much of Trump’s speech was dedicated to warning about the “tremendous onslaught” of immigrants entering the country.
“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” he said. “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.”
The deep ideological divisions in the Congress were evident during Trump’s speech. Republicans frequently stood and applauded loudly, while Democrats — including many women dressed in white to honor women’s suffrage (including North Carolina’s Alma Adams) — sat quietly through many of Trump’s more contentious remarks.
Trump told Congress that “America is winning each and every day,” and that “the state of the union is strong,” prompting chants of “U-S-A” from Republicans. “That sounds so, so good,” the president said.
Trump touted a host of his administration’s policies that have drawn ire from the left. He pointed to the rollback of federal rules and declared that his team has “unleashed a revolution in American energy,” becoming the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas.
He also boasted the massive tax overhaul bill he signed into law and his move to eliminate what he called “the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty.”
As House Democrats prepare to kick off a spate of investigations into the Trump administration, Trump issued words of caution.
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” he said. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”
The president issued new calls for issues where even a divided Congress could in theory muster bipartisan support, like efforts to rebuild infrastructure, lowering the cost of healthcare and protecting patients with pre-existing conditions and fighting childhood cancer. Still, it’s unclear whether Democrats in either chamber will have much of an appetite to work with Republicans on major legislation as the 2020 presidential race nears.
GOP lawmakers in North Carolina welcomed Trump’s call for unity.
In his statement, Congressman Patrick McHenry said that “Tonight, President Trump delivered a strong message calling for us all to unite behind a shared vision of American greatness. The President laid out the many accomplishments of the past two years, from comprehensive legislation combatting (sic) the opioid epidemic to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which has helped so many American businesses and families.”
Trump won raucous bipartisan applause when he mentioned that women were filling the bulk of the country’s newly created jobs last year, as many Democrats turned to applaud the many women who arrived on Capitol Hill this year.
“You weren’t supposed to do that,” he said of the boisterous applause from the Democratic side of the aisle. He noted, “We also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before.” In a departure from his prepared remarks, after the Democrats chanted, “U-S-A,” Trump said, “Congratulations, that’s great.”
Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member. Rob Schofield contributed to this story.