- By Jessica Wehrman Washington Bureau
President Donald Trump vowed during his first State of the Union Address that he would spend his next year in office attempting to unite the country around issues of infrastructure, immigration and national security.
Trump, a president unlike any other — one who fights with foes on Twitter and one whose behavior is often unpredictable even to his own party —spent his time at the podium as many predecessors have: Touting achievements such as the nation’s recent economic growth and a newly-passed tax bill and laying out his agenda for the year ahead — an agenda that he said would create a “safe, strong and proud America.”
“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,’ he said.
But even in vowing to unite, Trump couldn’t resist a jab or two. Honoring a 12-year-old boy who plants flags at the graves of veterans, Trump inserted a subtle reminder of his distaste for NFL players who kneeled during the National Anthem to protest racism.
“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, to raucous cheers from Republicans in the chamber.
Immigration, too, was a fraught topic. Trump — who sparred sharply with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over a recent attempt to prevent the deportation of those brought here illegally as children — said such “loopholes” allowed for the proliferation of the gang MS-13, singling out in the chamber the parents of two teens murdered in 2016 by MS-13 members.
“My highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities,” he said. “I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise…my duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans.”
Some Democrats on the House floor were visibly unhappy, booing when he called for an end to “chain migration,” which allows immigrants to bring relatives into the country. Rep. Tim Ryan, D–Niles, meanwhile, held a seat empty in the chamber for Amer Othman, a Youngstown businessman who was deported Monday to Jordan after 39 years in the United States. Ryan decried the Trump administration for targeting businessmen like Othman “instead of violent criminals who actually pose a threat.” Separately, more than 20 Democratic lawmakers had invited “Dreamers” — immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children - to watch the speech.
“When Trump began to discuss illegal immigration, he did so by raising crime, gangs, and murder,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarvlle University. “”By framing immigration in these terms, Trump injected a level of hostility into the argument. This plays well with his base, but it is not the way to build bridges to Democrats, some of whom he will need.”
Trump was on less polarizing ground on infrastructure, where he called for “safe, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.” Specifically, he wants Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for new investment into roads and bridges.
He also renewed calls to address the opioid epidemic, vowing to “get tougher” on drug dealers and committing to “helping get treatment for those in need.”
And he vowed to get tougher on ISIS and North Korea, singling out Wyoming, Ohio native Otto Warmbier - who was imprisoned in North Korea and sent home days before his death - as an example of the brutality of North Korea's regime. Watching in the chamber were Fred and Cindy Warmbier, Otto’s parents, who Trump called “powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world.” The White House did not announce the Warmbier’s presence in the chamber until midway through the speech.
Trump, whose first speech to Congress occurred days after his inauguration and thus was not considered a State of the Union Address, highlighted tax cuts passed by Congress as a crowning achievement. "There has never been a better time to start living the American dream," he said.
Local residents guests of first lady
Watching the speech from the First Lady’s gallery were three Ohioans picked to illustrate the benefits of that law: Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger, president and vice president of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton and Corey Adams, a skilled welder at Staub. Trump singled them out in his speech, calling Adams “an all-American worker,” and citing them as examples of people who benefited from the tax bill.
While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi successfully urged Democrats not to interrupt Trump’s speech loudly, Democrats made their distaste known all the same, with Pelosi, among others, mostly sitting stoically in the chamber. One of the most visible protests: Democrats including Rep. Joyce Beatty, D–Jefferson Township, wore black in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harassment.
After Trump’s speech, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., gave the Democratic response, indirectly calling Trump a bully.
“Bullies may land a punch,” he said in excerpts released before his speech. “They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.”
HOW TO WATCH, LISTEN INTERACT DURING STATE OF THE UNION
Radio: If you missed the speech, it will re-air at midnight on AM1290 and News 95.7 WHIO. Get complete reaction to the address on Miami Valley’s Morning News Wednesday from 5-9 a.m.
On Facebook: Watch the president’s full speech and speak out on the issues on our Ohio Politics Facebook page