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State of the Union: We’re living in Trump’s ‘moment’

President Donald J. Trump delivers his first State

President Donald J. Trump delivers his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

Trump’s soaring point

That wasn’t the Twitter Donald Trump — snarling at critics, warning of conspiracies against him, assigning rude names to foes and poor countries — who stood before Congress and addressed the nation in his first State of the Union address.

Well-scripted and poignantly choreographed, Trump described wrapping Americans in a protective embrace against villains from Kim Jong Un to MS-13, illustrated with the grief-struck faces of victims’ families and salutes to heroes who stood up to evil.

Whether it was for “America First” trade policy or more restrictive immigration, the rationale was essentially the same.

“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too,” Trump said.

There was the occasional reminder, too, of the polarizing Trump, such as an allusion to his repeated swipes at black athletes’ protests during the national anthem.

Trump called for “the unity we need to deliver for the people.” It will be a tall order as the stagecraft of Tuesday night gives way to Trump’s everyday style and the substance behind deep national division.

See the story for Newsday by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Going ‘great’

Trump offered plenty of self-congratulation — at times literally applauding himself — for the strengthening economy and the tax-cut package that he won from the Republican-led Congress over Democratic critics who said it favored the wealthy.

“This, in fact, is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream,” Trump said.

Trump used the speech to build support for his $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that he hopes to push through Congress this year.

For a full transcript of the 80-minute speech, click here. For a complete video, click here.

Long Islanders’ grief

The parents of slain Brentwood teenagers Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas teared up as Trump, demanding an end to “deadly loopholes” in immigration law that let MS-13 gangsters into the country, called on Congress to “make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.”

“I hope that us being here represents everyone’s children,” Mickens’ mom, Elizabeth Alvarado, said earlier. “Hopefully, we can just crack down on this and get rid of it.”

Elsewhere in the gallery, Dreamers watched the speech, including Nelson Melgar of Glen Cove, who said, “I remain disappointed with Trump’s stance on immigration and his willingness to classify all immigrants as MS-13 gang members.” See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.

Reactions to the speech by local members of Congress split along predictable partisan lines, as reported by Newsday’s David M. Schwartz

Janison: Ground control

As with anyone in the business, Trump’s passing grades for the speech were largely the product of having handlers and aides stage and script the performance, replete with a prompter, guests with moving stories and a partisan booster section, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

The bar was low, if that meant not maligning anyone from what he deems to be dirty, shabby or otherwise unpleasant places. Or, broadly insulting voters from the other major party.

The scripting also offered a clarity of expression often absent from Trump’s extemporaneous performances.

Kennedy: It’s the bully’s pulpit

Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III, giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union address, called on Americans to reject the extreme partisanship and “chaos” of the Trump era.

“Bullies may land a punch” and leave a mark, but have “never managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future,” said Kennedy, a grandson of the late New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Decrying a rollback of civil rights protections and proposals that target Muslims, transgender people and others, Kennedy said the Trump administration “isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.”

What’s to talk about?

Trump has said he is “looking forward” to being questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller, but Trump’s lawyers are now questioning whether there is enough to ask about, CNN reported.

Trump’s attorneys say Mueller’s prosecutors haven’t yet shown that only the president can give them the information they require. Negotiations are continuing.

Ryan steers toward middle lane

House Speaker Paul Ryan supported the move by intelligence committee Republicans to seek release of Chairman Devin Nunes’ memo alleging abuses in the Russia investigation. “There may have been malfeasance at the FBI,” Ryan said.

But Ryan urged GOP colleagues to avoid overstating the findings, which Trump could release in the next several days. He also said Mueller’s investigation “should be allowed to take its course.” He also said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, reportedly a target of Trump’s ire, “is doing a fine job.”

The Washington Post reports Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray told White House chief of staff John Kelly Monday that the memo should not be released.

The case against McCabe?

The Justice Department inspector general has been examining why Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s deputy director until Monday, didn’t act for three weeks after being told a batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails were found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, The Washington Post reported.

It’s still unclear whether the IG concluded a delay was politically motivated or reflected a careful process of determining whether the emails shed new light on the Clinton case. Ultimately, FBI Director James Comey announced the reopening of the Clinton probe on Oct. 28, 2016, and closed it again week later. Clinton blamed Comey’s statements for her loss.

Getting the memo

Moments after finishing his tightly scripted address, Trump broke discipline and told a member of Congress that he would "100 percent" allow release of a controversial GOP-drafted memo meant to discredit the FBI in its Russia pursuit. It was reported before the speech he hadn't read it yet to decide on a release. 

What else is happening

  • In a break with long-standing tradition, Melania Trump didn’t ride to the Capitol with her husband for the State of the Union address, CNN reported. She was joined instead by the guests she invited.
  • Porn star Stormy Daniels went on the Jimmy Kimmel show and played coy as to whether she actually signed a letter denying an affair with Trump.
  • Did Trump coin the phrase “new American moment?” Nope. Turns out it was used in a 2010 speech by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Yahoo News reported.
  • Scott Pruitt, now the EPA administrator, said in a recently unearthed February 2016, radio interview that Trump would use executive power “in a way that is truly unconstitutional.” Pruitt, who was supporting Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination at that time, walked back the comment Tuesday.
  • Trump’s speechwriters keep a low profile, which is best for their job security, because the president doesn’t want people to think anyone puts words in his mouth, according to New York magazine.
  • The White House’s original choice for U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Victor D. Cha, won’t be nominated because he disagreed with the Trump administration’s consideration of a limited strike against North Korea, The Washington Post reported.
  • A federal judge in Brooklyn hearing two lawsuits challenging the president’s cancellation of DACA as motivated by racism said Trump’s anti-immigrant statements are relevant to the case. “It’s extreme. It’s recurring. It’s vicious,” said Judge Nicholas Garaufis.
  • Trump is expected to pick Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the Army’s digital warfare branch, to head the clandestine National Security Agency, Politico reported. Nakasone is well respected within the cybersecurity and military community.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pressed the Trump administration to explain a report that Moscow’s foreign intelligence director entered the U.S. last week despite being subject to sanctions, Politico writes.

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