Don't look at me that way
Donald Trump's pitch for a Mexican border wall was the most predictable part of his State of the Union speech — after all, he's been pitching it for 3½ years now. Republicans cheered, even if they don't want to shut down the government again for it. Democrats watched in silence.
Not expected were Trump's comments on another of his obsessions. He warned the economy could tank because of the investigations he faces, which are about to include probes by the Democratic-led House aiming to see his tax returns and search for conflicts of interest in his business dealings, for starters. Also on tap this week: closed-door testimony later this week by the ex-fixer who turned on him, Michael Cohen.
"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," Trump said. "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation," he declared. Seated behind him, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rolled her eyes. (Click here for video.)
That drew instant comparisons to President Richard Nixon's 1974 State of the Union speech, in which he said, "One year of Watergate is enough."
It also was a jarring contrast to Trump's gestures during the address toward a more high-minded bipartisanship and spirit of compromise. “We must reject the politics of revenge,” said Trump. He received a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats when he told them: "The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs — and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions."
There also was a surprising ad-lib to his prepared text when Trump said he'd like to see immigrants come to the U.S. legally "in the largest numbers ever." That sounded at odds with the administration's policy to date.
As for the wall, Trump vowed, "I will build it." But there were no ultimatums. He did not use the occasion to threaten a second shutdown or a national emergency declaration. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. Click on the following links for video of the full speech, a transcript with fact-checks by Politico and Newsday's compilation of standout quotes.
Trump defended his plans for pulling U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Syria, declaring that "great nations do not fight endless wars." That line received bipartisan applause. But hours earlier, the Senate voted 77-23 for a bill authored by a fellow Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, cautioning against withdrawing too hastily.
Touting a second nuclear-arms summit set for Feb. 27-28 with Kim Jong Un, Trump asserted: “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."
He skipped the following words in the prepared text — "with potentially millions of people killed." Washington Post fact-checkers said Trump exaggerated the possibility of war, which had been heightened by his own previously harsh rhetoric.
On two occasions, Trump pointed to his home state to make policy points. He noted a recent fatal shooting on a Queens subway platform by an alleged MS-13 gang member. He attacked a recently passed New York abortion law as allowing "a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth." The law allows an abortion after 24 weeks to protect the mother’s health or if the fetus is not viable.
Newsday asked Long Island's House delegation and New York's senators for their reactions to Trump's speech, and the responses followed partisan lines.
Democrats' response: Trump divides us
Stacey Abrams, a Georgia Democrat who narrowly lost a race for governor in November, gave her party's response to the State of the Union speech and accused Trump and his fellow Republicans of abandoning working Americans and of fomenting partisan and cultural discord.
Abrams said she is "very disappointed by the President's approach to our problems." She added: "I still don't want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America."
Unity? Not for a New York minute
While Trump was expected in advance of the speech to give lip service to bipartisan unity, no one was having it, including Trump.
"The man has so little integrity that a promise that he makes at the State of the Union means nothing the next morning,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech. "The president spends the other 364 days of the year dividing us and sowing a state of disunion,” Schumer said.
Trump fired back on Twitter: “I see Schumer is already criticizing my State of the Union speech, even though he hasn’t seen it yet. He’s just upset that he didn’t win the Senate, after spending a fortune, like he thought he would."
He has the best gaffes
At a pre-speech lunch with TV anchors, Trump slammed Schumer as a “nasty son of a bitch” and ripped other Democrats, drawing a unique comparison between himself and former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 challenger.
"When I say something that you might think is a gaffe, it’s on purpose; it’s not a gaffe. When Biden says something dumb, it’s because he’s dumb.”
Also, the president's grudge against John McCain for thwarting the repeal of Obamacare has outlived the late Arizona senator.
“By the way,” Trump said, “he wrote a book and the book bombed.”
Trump’s remarks were reported by The New York Times.
Janison: Probers net gets wider
While special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe gets closer to conclusion, and how damaging it will be to Trump remains unclear, there's more potential legal trouble brewing from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
The prosecutors there, who scored a guilty plea from Cohen on campaign finance charges, have subpoenaed records from the committee that set up the president's lush 2017 inaugural. By most public accounts, the scrutiny is on possible financial wrongdoing involving more than $100 million the committee raised.
According to CNN, those federal prosecutors have requested interviews in recent weeks with executives at the Trump Organization. They have questioned at least two former Trump campaign officials, and one was asked about coordination between the Trump Organization and the campaign, CNN said.
Puckering up to Putin
How connected was Trump's flattery of Vladimir Putin to efforts during the 2016 campaign to start a Trump Tower project in Moscow? Documents uncovered by BuzzFeed give new cause to wonder.
Cohen and Felix Sater were pushing for the project even as Trump was repeatedly denying he had dealings with Russia, according to the BuzzFeed report. They hoped Trump's praise for Putin would help clinch the deal. One example: A Nov. 3, 2015, email from Sater to Cohen asking for a video clip of Trump's call for better relations that he could pass to "Putin and his people" because "it will help our cause."
Fear striking out?
Trump as president has tried to sell fear in a variety of packages, according to a New York Times analysis. It works on his supporters, such as when he stokes anxieties of a crime invasion from across the border.
But his efforts to make himself feared by real or would-be adversaries are looking less successful. Pelosi hasn't blinked, and there are signs Republicans are less intimidated since he lost the government shutdown battle.
A CNN analyst notes that while Trump can incite those who already agree with him, he lacks the power to persuade others to see things his way. "He is very comfortable reinforcing and energizing the people who are already with him at the expense of reaching beyond them to those who are not already on his side," says Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
It means Trump tries to govern from a narrower base of support than did almost any of his predecessors. Theodore Roosevelt called the presidency a bully pulpit, but Trump may have misunderstood what that means.
What else is happening:
- A viral early reaction on Twitter focused on Trump's fashion misstatement: His long red tie was askew. Later on, it seemed to find the right direction, aimed at true south.
- One of the president and first lady's invited guests at the State of the Union was Joshua Trump, an 11-year-old Delaware boy who has been bullied at school because of his last name.
- Checking in to the No Tell Votel: Gen. Joseph Votel, in charge of the U.S. Central Command that oversees military operations in the Middle East, told a Senate committee Tuesday he "was not consulted" prior to Trump's December announcement that he would withdraw troops from Syria. Votel also said ISIS remains a threat there.
- The Trump Organization said its purge of undocumented workers has resulted in 18 firings at five Trump golf courses in New York and New Jersey, The Washington Post reported. The immigration status reviews followed news stories about such workers who had held the jobs for years.
- Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, considering an independent presidential run in 2020, said on a book tour stop: "I promise I would do nothing whatsoever to be a spoiler to re-elect Donald Trump," Politico reported. Early polling suggests he could peel more votes away from a Democrat than from Trump.
- A Democratic-allied public affairs firm is urging party officials to spare Starbucks from their attacks on Schultz, fearing a potential boycott of the coffee giant, the Daily Beast reports. SKDKnickerbocker argues Schultz no longer runs Starbucks, which is their client.
- Maine's lobster dealers are seeing their export business clawed away by Trump's trade war with China, according to the Portland Press-Herald. Sales to Chinese customers usually peak during the Lunar New Year but have cratered because of 25% tariffs. The buyers have turned to cheaper Canadian lobster.