President Trump Speaks to the Nation in his State of the Union Address

CAROLINE GARDNER & QUINCEY WILSON: WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Trump addressed hundreds of Congress members, several honored guests and millions of Americans in the House Chamber during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Trump highlighted many of his Administration’s initiatives and accomplishments that contributed to the country’s prosperity and peace, but he stated that “ridiculous partisan investigations” are not amongst them. In his third address, he faces a deeply divided Congress. He started his speech by saying "We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution," adding that, “victory is not winning for our party, it is winning for our nation.”

Administration highlights

Trump stated that the administration has “created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs.” He said this was “something which almost everyone said was impossible to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started.”

He claimed that “nearly five million Americans have been lifted off food stamps,” and referred to the U.S. economy as “the hottest economy anywhere in the world.” He said the economy is growing twice as quickly as before he took office in 2016.

He also said unemployment is at the lowest rate in over 50 years, including the lowest unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Americans with disabilities. “More people are working now than at any time in our history — 157 million people at work,” he said.

The President also said the “United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.”

He mentioned the successes of the 155th Congress including bipartisan “unprecedented legislation to confront the opioid crisis, a sweeping new Farm Bill, historic V.A. reforms, and after four decades of rejection, we passed V.A. accountability so that we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans. And just weeks ago, both parties united for groundbreaking criminal justice reform.”

“They said it couldn’t be done,” he added. 

Special guests recognized by the President

 In addition to members of the cabinet, Congress and the Supreme Court, President Trump addressed the following people during his address:

Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sergeant Irving Locker, and Sergeant Herman Zeitchik were part of the D-Day invasion that helped to end World War II and were in the audience and welcomed by the President.

Buzz Aldrin, 50 years ago, was part of the Apollo 11 mission that planted the first flag on the moon. His work was highlighted by the President. Trump added, “This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets.”

In 1997, Alice Johnson was sentenced to life in prison as a first-time non-violent drug offender. She was a leader and an inspiration within the prison system, and an example of the criminal justice system’s faults in America. Her sentence was commuted by President Trump in June 2018. “Alice is here with us tonight and she is a terrific woman,” said the President.

In 1996, Matthew Charles was sentenced to 35 years for selling drugs and related offenses. Matthew is the first person to be released from prison under the First Step Act. “Thank you Matthew. Welcome home,” said Trump.

Debra Bissell, whose parents were murdered three weeks ago by an illegal immigrant in Nevada was in the audience with her daughter Heather and her granddaughter Madison. “Few can understand your pain. Thank you for being here. Thank you very much,” said Trump. “Not one more American life should be lost because our nation failed to control its very dangerous border,” he added. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Elvin Hernandez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, has rescued over 300 women from sex traffickers at the southern border. “We will always support the brave men and women of law enforcement — and I pledge to you tonight that we will never abolish our heroes from ICE,” said Trump.

Grace Eline, 10, was a childhood cancer patient, raising more than $400,000 for charity during her brain cancer treatment. “Thank you very much, Grace. You are a great inspiration to everyone in this room,” said Trump.

 S.W.A.T. Officer Timothy Matson, was shot many times in his successful attempt in stopping the killer in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. “We are forever grateful,” said the President to the officer.

Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor and survivor of the attacks in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was in attendance. Trump recognized him and his 81st birthday, to which the audience sang “Happy Birthday.” After the song, Trump said, “They wouldn’t do that for me, Judah.”

Another Holocaust survivor named Joshua Kaufman was also in attendance. Herman Zeitchik, seated next to Kaufman, was one of the soldiers to liberate the camp that imprisoned him. “Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight — seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom,” said Trump.

Women

In the 2018 State of the Union Address, democratic women were seen wearing all black in a tribute to the #metoo movement. This year, they opted to wear all white, many wearing “ERA Yes” buttons in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who was seated behind President Trump for the duration of his speech, was dressed in white as well.

The House Democratic Women’s Working Group encouraged other lawmakers to wear white as well to show solidarity once more. Their message resonated with Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), as he was seen towards the front of the audience wearing an all-white suit.

Trump also highlighted the administration’s achievements in women’s employment, saying “no one has benefited more from a thriving economy than women who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year."  

This statistic brought cheers from many members of the audience. "You weren’t supposed to do that," Trump said, after receiving applause from Democratic Congresswomen. He then said, "Don’t sit yet. You’re going to like this."

"We also have more women serving in Congress than in any time before," the president stated. He also noted that this year is the 100th anniversary of the amendment that gave women the right to vote.

The chamber erupted in applause and enthusiasm. Members of both parties and Trump’s cabinet chanted "USA! USA!" and gave each other high fives.

"That's great," Trump said. "Congratulations."

Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, two congresswomen who have announced their bid for the 2020 presidential election, were absent from the group. They did not dress in all-white for the State of the Union address.

Foreign Affairs

In the Administration’s foreign policy efforts, the United States recently recognized Venezuela’s legitimate government, headed by new interim president Juan Guaido.

Trump attacked the “socialist policies” of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and addressed how Maduro’s brutality “turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.” 

He also stated that the United States is “alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country.”

He said that it violates American ideals, saying “America was founded on liberty and independence — and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

The Administration is also increasing its efforts throughout the Middle East to mitigate tensions and spark political settlement, some of which include the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, the weakening of ISIS’s territorial foothold in Iraq and Syria, and the acceleration of negotiations between U.S. diplomats and the Taliban.

“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,” said the President.

“Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion dollars of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions and billions of dollars,” he said. “But I don’t blame China for taking advantage of us — I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen,” he said.

He also announced his meeting with Chairman Kim Jong-un on February 27th and 28th in Vietnam, after claiming, “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea. Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one,” he said.

He also pushed Congress to pass NAFTA’s replacement called the U.S.M.C.A. He said this treaty will “deliver for American workers like they haven’t had delivered to in a long time.”

“American agriculture, protecting intellectual property, and ensuring that more cars are proudly stamped with the four beautiful words: Made in the USA,” he added.

He also called for lawmakers to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act. “If another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the exact same product that they sell to us,” said the President.

Healthcare

Trump said that his Administration “eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty,” and “very importantly passed the “Right to Try” Act. This bill will give critically ill patients access to life-saving cures, according to the President.

He named lowering the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs “the next major priority.” He also called to ensure patient protection for pre-existing conditions and to continue to lower drug prices. “Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years,” he said.

He highlighted the need for more transparency in hospital pricing in order to lower costs and foster competition. He also called for more HIV funding, calling on Congress to commit to “eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.”

He also pledged to fund for research on childhood cancer, saying “many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades. My budget will ask Congress for $500 million dollars over the next 10 years to fund this critical life-saving research.”

Abortion

The President shared a true story about a mother who was allowed by a U.S. hospital to terminate her newborn child after minutes or hours of just giving birth. As a part of his agenda, Trump will be asking Congress to pass legislation that bans parents from terminating the late-term of the pregnancy period. “I want to create a culture that cherishes innocent life,” Trump expressed.

“And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God,” he added.

Immigration and Border Security

Trump’s State of the Union heavily featured discussions of the border wall and illegal immigration, “Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border,” said Trump.

He cited immigration as “a moral issue.”

He said “the lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all America. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.” 

He talked about the value legal immigrants add to the country, saying “I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”

He said the immigration debate shows the divide between “America’s working class and America's political class,” claiming “wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

Trump spoke about his proposed wall: “This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way, way down.”

Military

Present Trump said “our military is the most powerful on earth” and the President plans to continue to support initiatives that encourage military build-up. For example, he plans to build a state-of-the-art missile defense system to further improve the nation’s missile capabilities.

This project is in response to the United States officially withdrawing from its agreement with Russia in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F Treaty, which required the United States to reduce its missile functions. “While we followed the agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms…We really have no choice,” Trump stated.

He added that “Over the last two years, we have begun to fully rebuild the United States Military — with $700 billion dollars last year and $716 billion dollars this year. We are also getting other nations to pay their fair share. Finally.”

 

USA chanting

Audience members chanted twice during President Trump’s State of the Union Speech. This first came early in the speech after he said, “After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, by far, and America is again winning each and every day. Members of Congress: the State of our Union is strong.”

The other USA chant was in response to the record number of women in Congress.

 

Designated Survivor

 Energy Secretary Rick Perry was not in the audience for the State of the Union Address. The “Designated Survivor” is chosen from the cabinet by the President in order to have a clear leader in the case of an attack on the Capitol where the nation’s most powerful leaders are all gathered.

Max Magid